Flip side

The last post was partly about a long-ago road race that left me with a funny memory of my father. I remember one other moment of that 10K. It happened very near the finish. With a little over a quarter-mile to go, I was lying fifth. The leader, an Olympic-trials type from the University of Oregon, was long gone, and the next two guys had just crested the final hill and moved out of site, but I was reeling in Number 4, and I had the standard tactical choice to make. Tuck up on his shoulder, then try to out-kick him in the final stretch; or move by him now as strongly as possible, try to grab a substantial lead, and hope that he’d buy the false impression that I had plenty left.

If I waited and kicked, it would be a one-shot deal. He might kick stronger, and that would be that. If he tried to hold me off now, I could still give it another try. But what if he was strong enough to elevate his pace all the way in? That I didn’t think I could handle.

Delicious stuff, this part of running. I decided I had no real kick left, so I gathered myself and lifted my pace to go by, hoping he wouldn’t surge back too hard. The result took me by surprise. As I came even with him, he reached out, swatted me gently on the backside, and breathed, “Nice run.” It was a short, effective concession speech. And a great relief.

Of course, now I literally couldn’t manage 50 yards at the pace I carried in that race, and given age and issues, some of these fundamentally happy memories have occasionally begun dressing up in dark clothing and knocking at my door as metaphors of doom. Thoughts of finish lines and comments about nice runs (or good fights), for example, take on their inevitable figurative meanings. Happy turns to sad. Or at least to wistful.

But when this happens, I’ve been thinking, “You were there. You did stuff. And you laughed a lot. Now suck it up. Go places. Take on some more challenges. Do some more stuff. Give lots of figurative pats on the behind. Laugh with people you love.

And, so far at least, I’ve been doing just that.



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