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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

Independence Day

"The second day of July, 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America."
— John Adams

Every year some wise-guy commentator on TV or radio makes fun of the fact that, on July 4, 1776, king George III wrote in his diary that "Nothing of importance happened today". Even though the old boy was completely off his rocker in general, people like John Adams pretty much agreed with him on this matter: The Declaration of Independence was formally adopted on July second (and never mind that "epocha" sounds like something you'd have removed by your dermatologist). The signing didn't begin until August 2nd and the signatories didn't finish putting their John Hancocks (so to speak) on it until 1781.* So I say that Independence Day should be changed to July 2...that way we can all forget the races we ran on the fourth.

Anyone who was in the Northeastern United States on July 4, 1999 knows what I'm talking about. Some day when we're all old geezers we'll annoy young people by telling them about this day and how much better they have it than we did when we were young. Assuming present climate trends continue, they'll actually have it worse than us--but if history is any guide, we'll just deny it and insist they're wimps.("Now when I was your age...")

By 8:30 a.m. it was so hot I felt as if I had to keep moving just to keep the soles of my running shoes melting into the pavement and leaving me stuck like braer rabbit in the tar baby. We're also talking about serious humidity here, like the kind I've previously encountered only in the depths of Ohio in the summer, where soaked clothing left out in the sun won't dry because the air can't hold any more moisture. Half way through a sedate two mile warm-up run, I had to remove my singlet because it was obvious it was only going to get soaked if I kept it on for another mile. I seriously considered just going home and letting them keep the entry fee I'd paid less than 20 minutes earlier.

But of course runners never do anything that sensible, do we? No. So shortly thereafter I was on the starting line with a host of other fools starting a 10k. ("We who are about to fry salute you!")

The Irondequoit 10k has a wonderful course: It starts on King's Highway just North of Titus Ave. and bends, weaves, rises and dips all the way down to the shore of lake Ontario. There's enough elevation drop that you can run a pretty decent 5k time for the first half of the race. Of course, then you have to give it all back as you run through the residential streets that take you back toward Titus Ave., but it's the hills and turns that make this race a great test of strength and strategy.

The first mile of the race was predictable enough, with a couple of really fast guys pulling ahead, a few clueless guys a short distance behind them and the rest of us following farther back. By the time I reached Lakeshore Boulevard, the fast guys were well ahead of me and the clueless ones were far behind me. One of my traditional adversaries, Winston Guy, was just in front of me and Ray Stemmer was a little bit farther ahead. Then Winston moved up to, and just slightly ahead of, Ray, and I followed about 10 meters back as we passed the half way point.

This is where the race started to get difficult. And when a 10k race is getting difficult at the 5k mark you know you're in trouble. Somewhere around 3-1/2 miles (and the fourth mile always seems to be the slowest of this course) I decided to back off and just let Ray and Winston go. But after another half mile at much reduced pace, I noticed that they were the same distance in front of me. One of the nice things about the Irondequoit 10k is the number of people who set up sprinklers or extra water stops in their front yards for the runners. Despite this community support, I was fading from the heat and humidity so I cut back my effort yet another notch. Ray and Winston stubbornly remained the same distance ahead of me. It was as if someone had attached a bungee cord between us and every time I slowed down I pulled them back with me. Like most runners, I never even considered the possibility that they might be feeling just as bad as I was.

By 5-1/2 miles I was just hanging on, running in "head-down-just-looking-at-the-road-three-feet-in-front-of-me" mode. Three large arrows painted on the road and pointing left shook me out of my trance as I rounded the corner (they'd long since run out of road marshals by this point). Where the hell were Ray and Winston? Had I made a wrong turn? Between the heat and fatigue, I wasn't sure what was going on. There was a downhill slope ahead and I saw two heads disappearing down the crest before me. Could they really have pulled that far ahead? I thought I was just a few yards behind! When I reached the edge of the hill I realized that the people whose heads I'd seen were not Ray and Winston, and in fact were not even runners. As I suddenly recognized the road ahead from running this race in previous years it became obvious even to my addled brain that I wasn't the one who'd had made a wrong turn.

I could hardly believe what had happened. I mean, there were three big arrows painted on the road at that corner indicating which way to go and even though there were no road marshals present, the lack of road marshals would lead most runners to look for some kind of marking on the road. Still, it the brutal conditions that day, none of us was thinking very clearly. (If we had been we'd have all stayed home.)

At first I expected them to come blasting by be any moment (remember how I mentioned that runners always assume their adversaries feel better than they do at any point in a race?) When this failed to happen I took the opportunity to really back off my pace. The Irondequoit course has a tough hill leading up to the six-mile mark. That's where I was planning on challenging them for...whatever place were fighting over. I like to think I'm a good hill runner, but Winston's a much better hot weather runner than I am. It would have been interesting but I'm glad I didn't have to go one iota faster than I did.

I went into "just finish it" mode and cruised through to a surprising third place finish. Ray and Winston ended up going almost half a mile before realizing they were off course, making them, I suppose, first and second place finishers in the first unofficial Irondequoit 12k, although that's probably little consolation. Yes, they did finish the race. I'm in awe: I'd have just sat down and either laughed or cried and then hitched a ride back. Winston was obviously upset but Ray was pretty philosophical about it. There was, thankfully, no prize money offered and little else at stake. (Let's put it this way: After you die, your descendants are not going to argue over "who gets the Irondequoit 10k third-place trophy".)

I'd be willing to bet that almost everyone who ran any race that day had a "personal worst" or close to it. I know I did. The question is how to record it properly. What exactly do I write in my running log for the day? How about "Nothing of importance happened today"?

Copyright © 1999 Mark Roberts

*For more on this fascinating subject, and many others, see
Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, by Bill Bryson, Avon Books, ISBN 0380713810
Powell's: The book-lover's online book store.

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