Zoom. Zoom.

My uncle Bob was remembered by family and friends as a baseball player and a real speedster, who could beat out bunts and run down deep flies in the outfield. My dad was remembered as a football player who especially enjoyed knocking people down. One day, 16 and feeling my oats, I was yammering on at home about my own physical magnificence, with an emphasis on the blinding speeds I could achieve afoot. I announced that I bet I could have beaten Bobby in a sprint. My dad, who was then 40, usually let this sort of nonsense pass harmlessly over his head, but on this day, he said, “You’re fast, but you’re not all that fast.” A brief flurry of comments ensued, mine grandiose and defensive, Dad’s infuriatingly humorous, meant to deflate my balloon.

In retrospect, the result (in my family, at least) was inevitable. In sneakers and long pants, we headed out to the straight stretch on Cat Swamp Road, where I had long before painted markers on the asphalt at 50, 60, and 100 yards. We agreed on 60. My mother headed to the finish line, where she would act as official starter and reluctant finish judge. We toed the line, mom dropped her arm, and we were off.

No contest. My father won by a clear stride.

My only comfort was that he could hardly walk the next day. The happiest member of the family was my mother, who hadn’t been required to adjudicate a photo finish between husband and son.

Let’s move on. It’s 15 or so years later. Dad, now in his mid-50s has started running for fitness. He’s doing great, going 4 miles most evenings, even in the freezing dark of winter, and a good bit longer on weekends with me and a group of my friends. In my early 30s, I’m by far in the best shape of my life, racing well. I’m planning to run an upcoming 10K on local roads and he decides he’d like to try it—the first non-sprint race of his life. He should handle it easily.

It’s time to assemble at the start, several hundred people jammed into a long seething snake on a country road, and I say to him. “Dad, I’m going up on the front line. You start from the back.” I point to the other end of the crowd. “Go out easy, get a feel for things, and don’t try to run hard until you get past the hills.”

When the gun goes off, the front group hammers through a very quick first mile, and I forget all about him. I’m fully committed to monitoring my own engine room for the duration. 

When I finish, I spend the usual time recovering and chatting, then I start jogging back on the course, expecting to see my father cruising in fairly soon. I shuffle along for a quarter-mile; no Dad. A half-mile; no Dad. I’m beginning to worry that he’s dropped out, which would mean he’s fallen or pulled something or sprained an ankle and really hurt himself. Finally, a mile from the finish, here he comes, plodding exhaustedly along. He could have walked faster.

“Dad, what happened?”

“Jesus Christ, you guys went out fast.”

“You were supposed to run from the back.”

“I did. I was three or four rows behind you.”

The thought of him trying to keep up with what was probably a 70-second first quarter can still make me giggle.

It wasn’t revenge, and it wasn’t sweet, but whatever it was, it was fairly tasty.

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