Heather and I did our first race last Sunday. It was an 8km (5 mile) course north of the center city, up in the Vienna Woods, a rugged area that is about 1000 feet higher than the elevation of the city. The race began in an area called "Am Himmel", which means heaven. As we drove there that morning, up the switch-back roads, every turn brought us into denser and denser fog. When we finally got there and made it to the starting line, it was whiteness 360 degrees around, the temperature was a perfect 68 degrees. Heather and I were together. My pre-race bowel issue aside, I thought maybe we really were in heaven.
The fact was I had just entered hell.
The day before the race I checked the previous year race results and figured I could do quite well so I wished Heather luck and moved to the front of the pack. For the start, the race official counted backwards from five, my German lessons paying off here as I got an excellent start. I stuck with the front pack for the first half mile. The course was very tough, all natural trails, and steep like I've never seen on an actual race. Soon I found I could not keep pace and at the halfway point I drifted back to the second group.
I have to say, that although the course was difficult, as we reached higher elevations and the terrain began to level, I felt remarkably well and decided if I was going to catch the front runners, I needed to make my move. So I moved ahead of the second pack on my own. Now there's something I must confess. Prior to the race, Heather told me two things: 1) no, she's not going to set any personal bests she's going to enjoy the race and 2) that I should follow someone. Her basis for #2 was this: wooded courses can be difficult to follow, and as I was completely unfamiliar with the terrain, I should be extra careful not to get lost. In spite of this, and my acute awareness of Heather's remarkable tendency to be right, I didn't listen. I don't know why I didn't listen. I don't know why I don't ever listen. Maybe impressing her with a number one finish was more important to me.
Thus my behavior: bolting forward from the second pack.
My lone chase after the front runners didn't last long. Another runner stayed glued to my heals as we hit the downhills. This guy behind me was too muscle bound for running, in my opinion. As a matter of pride, us non-muscular types cannot allow a person of this sort to out run us. One thought entered my mind, and for some reason, it sounded Russian in my head: "I will break you."
I pushed myself as hard as I could down a sickly-steep gravel decline. I was probably running about a 5:15 min/mile pace, what I figured was the fastest one can safely run downhill, when the Austrian overtook me. I could not believe he had done this. I was running recklessly and he had passed me! But then the guy blew it, he turned from the main trail and disappeared into the woods off course. I called to him, half as a courtesy and half to be sure I wasn't going the wrong way myself. I was right. Not far ahead we could see the trail marking. The guy had made a wrong turn and I had saved him. He was mad he had lost valuable time and yelled some stuff in German. In the mix of words I think I heard "Sacajawea". Did he really call me Sacajawea? Was my assistance to him comparable to the great guide of Lewis and Clarke? Everything changed from this moment. He looked at me to lead our charge. He wanted to catch the front runners and I was to be his guide. In me he saw his compass, his scout, his helmsman. I was an expert on these trails: a Sherpa guide on the north summit of K-2, a gyroscope on Pioneer 10. I was Sacajawea!
Little did he know.
The Austrian stayed right behind me for the next half-mile. I continued down the hills rather uncontrollably, one-hundred percent focused on my footing, still certain his physique was not suitable for running at this speed. But the man matched my best stuff. I figured we were about a mile out. Everything was going very well for me. I was honestly having the best run of my life. I was sure I'd see the front runners any moment.
That was when I passed the halfway point for the second time. I stopped. We were running circles.
“Noooooooooo!” I shouted. I had led us the wrong way! It upset the Austrian more. He kicked the ground (really) and swore, "Scheisse!" Suddenly, I realized how much Scheisse sounded like Sacajawea. Then he spat a sentence or two of really angry sounding stuff, and I began to wonder if his anger was directed at me.
I backtracked for a few minutes, hoping to figure out where I went wrong, but there was no making sense of it. I should have been finished with the race but was only half done. (Actually, I wasn't even at the midpoint anymore sense I backtracked.) I turned back around. My only choice was to try again and hope I didn't get lost twice. So off I went. I noticed the Austrian guy was still following me, and still angry. I got back to the halfway point a third time, and suddenly, my race through heaven took on a strange feeling as if I had just entered hell.
If I was indeed in hell, I did not want to spend eternity running from this guy. So I went straight up to him and took the blame for us getting lost. (For the record, this was incredibly diplomatic of me. The guy would have been lost long before if it wasn't for me.) Anyway, I introduced myself to him. His name was Joseph. We ran together at an easy pace. Twenty minutes later we reached the finish line. Neither of us knew where we had gone wrong. We shook hands and Joseph disappeared into the clouds.
Heather crossed the finish line a few minutes after me. I had to check my watch. I could not believe she ran for that long. Did she get lost too?
Not at all. She was smiling, you know, that three-foot wide smile that looks like she just conquered the world. She had a nice jog, she told me. Apparently the trail was gorgeous. There were amazing trees. She said she saw a rabbit and even a view of the city for a while.
She had quite a story to tell.
- from misterhausfrau.com Oct 2006