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Gristmill: Nothing in the Tank

Thu, 09/14/2023 - 05:44
Fifth in his (late-middle) age group? Your friendly neighborhood columnist will take it.
Elitefeats Photo

I’ve said it before, stationing musicians along the route of the Mashashimuet Park 5K in Sag Harbor and at its start-finish was a stroke of genius, lending the proceedings the air of a block party.

But a party means fun. Is running ever truly “fun”? So many people do it, maybe we can call it fun-adjacent.

The thing about a competition, even a friendly one, is the irrationality it breeds. Let’s say, with all the thudding heat we’ve been having, you logged all of four miles in the two weeks leading up to Sunday’s 5K, if that. You’re getting older, too; there’s an aching in your knees that wasn’t there before.

You decide to barely jog it, maybe even walk.

And then you’re at the starting line, paid-for registration number pinned to your not-what-it-once-was midsection. Your fellow runners mill about like penned animals. You look to this face or that for a touch of commiseration, some fellow-feeling. You look in vain.

You sense, in other words, the anticipation associated with a ceremonial undertaking. A good-natured fund-raiser, sure, but one with parameters, guideposts. A clock.

The horn blows and you’re off. Instantly you can’t help it, you push yourself to race. It feels like effort, real effort, to the point where your face is reddened like a choking victim’s. The only difference is that in this case no one cares. You’re killing yourself? That’s your business. There’s a bottle of water and a banana for you at the end of it, knock yourself out.

The irrationality comes in when you resolve that you must, simply must, beat back the challenge from that perhaps fit-looking but thoroughly gray-haired and gut-level-annoying old gent dogging your heels as you hustle to the finish line. You pump your arms and pound your way home.

Then it’s over. A small victory of zero consequence is yours.

And yet, there was no gray-haired gent trailing you. It was merely part of a heat-and-strain-induced delirium, as when, somewhere past the two-mile mark, you fixed your eyes on the tarmac beneath you and contemplated the painted double yellow lines there: Do they in fact provide just a smidgen of extra cushioning as you huff and puff and slog your way along?

No one can tell me they don’t.  


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