The starting pen at the Gasparilla 8K was low on competitors lined up in the 6:30-7:30 per mile pace. I’d started far at the back of the pack lined up for the race, which numbered more than 5,000. It was the last of the four scheduled races of the weekend. The 15K, the original and flagship race of the Gasparilla series, has been won by a local Floridian named Eric Montalvia in a flashy 46:09, a 4:57 per mile pace. The 5K that day was won by Tampa’s Taylor McDowell in a more pedestrian 15:58, a 5:08 per mile pace.
The Half Marathon attracted an international field competing for an $8,000 first prize. Elkanah Kiet ran 4:51 per mile for a 1:03:38 winning time. The women’s race was a highly competitive affair with Sara Hall besting Stephanie Bruce in a record time of 1:12:00 to 1:12:01. That’s a close finish after 13.1 miles of running.
That left the 8K to be contested, and I wistfully watched the top runners as they were ushered into the lead pen ahead of us. Near me stood a lean young woman in bun hugger shorts and a set of sleek racing flats, a sleek young kid with a mop of loose blonde hair. Then there were the requisite overachievers, fit older guys with silver hair on their heads and veinous legs.
My own legs look good enough for a sixty-year-old man. They don’t look that much different from my legs at fifty years of age, or forty. The skin has started to get crepey, I’ll admit, but from a distance that isn’t all that visible.
But my feet and knees require orthotics to run distance these days. I’ve worn the set I have for six or seven years now. They’re effective but they’re heavy. I can’t step to the line anymore with nothing but a set of superlight racing flats the way I once did. But my New Balance 880s are firm for a training shoe, and there are signs of shoe wear only under the forefoot, because that’s where I run on them. So I haven’t given up the ghost when it comes to running the best I can.
The morning had started early on Gasparilla day. My wife Sue was running the half-marathon, and finished in just over 2:20 on a morning that heated up so fast it earned the Yellow warning flag from race officials. The Gulf breeze came from the South and made the Bayside stretched tolerable while headed in that direction. But when racers turned back north, there was nothing to wick off the heat.
In between, it was the stink of a low tide that filled the nose. So it was an earthy, funky, sweaty experience for everyone involved. But you couldn’t really tell that until you were so far into the race it was too late to really adjust or adapt.
I made all that worse by hitting the first-mile marker in 6:59. My goal was to run 7:30s for the day, but that first mile felt easy enough I decided to keep rolling. Then came two miles at 14:15. Somewhere between that mile point and the turnaround, the leaders were coming back in the other direction. I tried to gauge how fast they going. They looked respectable, but not quick. Indeed, the winner finished in 27:19. The kid’s name is Jake Turner and he is just 16 years old. He was the mop-headed kid I’d seen at the start. His pace was a creditable 5:29 per mile. On his way to great things, most likely.
But I’d have won that 8K race by a minute or so any number of times during my running career, in quite similar weather conditions. It would be so sweet to win these things again. I won’t lie. I feel like something’s been stolen from me in life.
But that’s how life goes. Life is a long series of giving things away. The truly successful learn how to go through that process gracefully, or take pleasure in helping others to achieve.
Sometimes we forget to abide what we try to share with others. I didn’t take my own advice seriously this morning. Going out at 7:00 pace was a bit stupid. But with all the waiting around from 6:00 am in the morning when Sue’s race began to 9:15 when my race began, it was a waiting game and a give-and-take with wanting to lie down and save my legs and wanting to warm up enough to overcome the sore Achilles I’d created by wearing sandals on our vacation jaunts. Everything we do has a cost. At least that’s what the guy carrying the Jesus sign tried to tell us. “The wages of sin is death.” Did Jesus really have such bad grammar?
I wasn’t seeing God the last 1.5 miles, but while crossing the finish line I felt dizzy to be honest. Some gal handed me a cold wet towel and pointed to a handy seat, and I took it. Drank some warm water. Looked back down the road at all the other runners trundling home. So many bodies. So many people in this world. Legs and arm and butts and breasts and kits and hats and bottles and brains. The human salad. I’m just another tomato these days, but it’s who I am.