The following fictional race story springs from the author’s own vast experience in running races himself as well as writing articles about real races. These experiences, combined with the author’s humour, make for an entertaining read. Welcome to the races!
The Annual Knuckle Buster 3 Miler
By Myron Neville
It was typical west coast spring weather for this year’s field of nearly five hundred runners. The temperature was in the mid 60’s with a slight breeze off the ocean and some scattered clouds at the start of the race. With a largely oval pancake flat course in front of them some runners were salivating at the thought of personal bests and medals. Many were just there for a fun time outing.
The charge from the gun is quickly whittled down to a leading field of three runners by the time they reach Bay View Grocery at the corner of Emerson Road and Sunset Street. Everyone is being led by the hard headed pacing of a race lean Josh Burns wearing the emerald green of the Mid-Town Harriers. Burns is still angry at the shadow just off his shoulder that had nipped him at the line in what he considered a lack-luster Luck of the Irish Shamrock 5k effort six weeks earlier.
An always cocky yellow-clad Earl Jones from the Downtowners Club is prancing along with a slight grin on his face judging the odds of pulling off another win at this pace. Though a track miler by trade, he has found himself in recent seasons adjusting well to the longer road distance.
Running in the pocket behind these two is the young up-and-coming university runner Melville J. “Fig” Newton wearing his blue and red Blue Mountain U colors. Newton is the dark horse in his first road event coming off a hot university indoor track season capped by winning the Big City Indoor Invitational 3000m with a time of eight minutes and thirteen seconds.
The rest of the field is sharing the lead with long time masters star Henry Cote of the Southside Club and beginning to string out as the leading trio continue to pull away at their minus 70sec pace. The first mile passes in 4:30 and the breathing of the passing runners sounds like a parade of old time steam engines about to blow their rivets. The race is shaping up out to be a barn burner of revenge and of not giving an inch.
Newton recalled later the only thing keeping him going was the fact that the two characters in front of him were so busy with each other that, “I just floated along behind them minding my own business.”
Plowing through the carnage of the leader’s pace dressed out in the powder blue of the Riverside Pacers is the long striding Abby Plover. This first time Pacer is beginning to make in-roads on the shattered legs and lungs of those foolish enough to follow the surge at the front.
Plover holds a crisp 5 minute pace through the first mile and not looking to be in any trouble. Just off her pace and pulling three others along is the freckled faced red head Sara Matheson, a young junior college athlete who has been showing good form earlier in the season. Locals Julie “the dark haired Beast” Gordon, the lanky Linda “Stretch” Richards is sporting her traditional racing pig tails as she calls them, and Beverly Hatfield from the Seashore Optimist Club and running with orange hair for this race are struck to her like glue to paper.
The four of them are feeding off each other like mosquitoes on an unsuspecting arm passing through the mile and a half mark in 7:25. Behind them a train of other runners is being sucked along hoping for an edge.
Through two miles in 9:05 and the leading trio is still locked in their private duel to the finish. Both Newton and Jones have taken their shots at Burns only to have him fight them off. To himself Burns is thinking no rest for the wicked and continues to run like a man possessed.
On the women’s side Hatfield who is stepping up from the mile in this season road opener takes the first shot at Plover to see what she’s made of. She quickly jumps clear by ten meters dragging along a determined Julie Gordon in what appears to be a break away attempt. Richards known for her late finishing speed and Matheson with good cross-country legs stay with Plover who still appears to have plenty of game in her legs.
They are like river boat gamblers about to play out their hands in the end game of the race that awaits them all.
Behind this group masters runner Abby “Grandmother” Drayton is in a no man’s land of her own trying to catch up to the break-away group ahead. She’s chopped seventy-five meters off their lead and has twenty-five to go. Drayton who knew she was in over her head on a flyer said after the race, “I was more worried for my husband Peter who looked beside himself with fear and astonishment at what was happening. When you gotta go, you go! So I went.”
Just in front of the leading women a sagging Cote is now hanging on to the slip stream of local Irish runner Benn Hogan an age group 10000m masters record holder on the track. Cote always known for being down but not out in any race isn’t about to give in to Hogan yet.
As the women pass by he holds out his thumb hoping to catch a lift – and Drayton is still closing while her rather frantic husband Peter is jumping around the course by bike worrying about his wife’s legs having anything left to get to the finish.
Jones is the first to crack at the front. A runner always knows it before the spectators do – that moment where will and sapped energy cannot stave off the pay back of daring to see how far, how fast, and how long you can go. With Jones it is a simple shrug of the shoulders and the slip into survivor mode. The cocky grin once on his face has changed to a grimace.
Wallowing in this quicksand of fatigue the gap opens and Jones watches the two runners slip away in slow motion and all the flaying away in the world won’t stop that cruel crawl backward. Behind Jones the always slow starting-fast finishing Trevor Jackson is making real inroads on a top three finish. Jackson had been at the tail end of the Cote group. Now he is in hot pursuit of the leading duo and only ten yards back.
Burns is too busy pouring the coals to his rage to notice anything but a shadow beside him and it isn’t his. The only thought in his mind – as he would say later – was to squash that bloody leech that was hanging on to me and not going away. He also said he didn’t dare look to see who it was.
To look at Newton every step past the two mile mark should have been his last. His eyes looked to be popping out of his head. His breathing sounded like death warmed over though his form was still looking good. To people in the know to say the young runner was in a lonely place against a savvy veteran road racer would have been an understatement.
The original pace had only dropped a few seconds and every second of that slowing was a reprieve from a body saying how nice it would to stop and have a rest under this tree we are passing. The shade beckoning, the mind screaming, No!
Abby Drayton’s surge toward the leaders is being carrying along on the wings of inspiration and courage more than a solid chance of winning. Asked later about her move she said, “What the hell, got to keep the kids honest!” Hatfield is flaying away like a bull in a china shop and Gordon seems up to the task at the moment. Matheson and Richards along with Plover are in touch again. Drayton finally bridges the gap and takes the moment to regroup.
Everything is about to hit the fan. Like the third lap in the mile with everyone waiting for the last lap bell and the rush for the finish.
Cote has long since said good-bye to Hogan and five and a half-pace moving toward six isn’t feeling any better and in the growing gap the leading women are also saying good-bye to him. Not that they notice or care. Further back burly Josh McNabb from Nova Scotia having arisen like a ghost from the dead is mounting his berserker charge for the front of the master’s pack with spit flying and strange groaning sounds filling the air. Some say he has a headless ghost for a distant relative back East.
The runners in front always know when McNabb is on a hunt by the various sounds to be heard approaching from behind. Local club coach George Parsons of the Rock Island Harriers once said, “He sounds like a bloody honking goose, a Chihuahua hacking up a hairball, and an asthmatic moose all at the same time. I can’t imagine what he sounds like to himself? It’s unnerving!”
A left turn at Fast Eddies Bar & Grill famous for its “Chicken wings so hot you can’t eat all you want!” and the race is coming down to the last kilo. Burns sneaks a peek for the first time on the turn to see Jackson in his lee perched like a vulture on a branch savoring the thought of fresh road kill.
…to be continued….