WIN A 5K; GUARANTEED
Let me first establish; I’m no juice ball triathlete. Too old for that but wouldn’t be interested if I wasn’t.
I have led a life of physical awareness, played : Little League made the all star team, football high school and college, a stretch of tennis in my 30s beat the guy who eventually became club champ, then running probably averaging 8 miles a day.
Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night and all the stuff. Added up , I’ve run hundreds of thousands of miles in my lifetime.
That’s why it didn’t come as a surprise to me when a friend asked me to enter the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run back in 2005. She knew I was addicted to running.
I accepted the invitation and asked my son Beau, who was 28 years old at the time, if he’d like to run with me. He was a runner and up for almost any challenge.
He welcomed the invite enthusiastically having won a number of 5Ks in his running past.
He boasted he would pace me to respectability.
We both checked in on the first Saturday in December with three thousand plus other runners to join the charitable run.
My age division was 60–7o
Beau’s was 20–29
My goal was finishing — not winning. I had run for close to 35 years and had never entered a race of any kind. I accepted my running as addicting; not obsessive.
I figured if I just went out every day and jogged without the pressure of winning something, I’d be able to continue for — who knows, a lifetime?
My son and I signed in, got our bibs, numbers, chips and were ready to ramble at 8:00am. We found ourselves starting the race around the middle of the pack.
Here’s what I remember about the race; beautiful sunny weather, my son bounding out in front, recalling his mission to pace me, returning to my side more than a few times.
Beyond that, I remember the steep hills of the course and the finishing dash.
Ahhh, yes — the finishing kick — Beau sprinted. I struggled to keep up.
His theory being: always finish strong in everything you do; leave all of you on the field of the contest no matter what the challenge.
We brought it in strong; leaving it all in the course.
The officials gave us our times: Beau had to finish ahead of me at 42:40
What’s the sense of pacing someone if you don’t finish in front of him?
My time was a respectable 43:10.
I didn’t realize how respectable it actually was at the moment.
I thought I was beyond recovery so complete was my effort.
As we were ready to leave, we heard the announcer bellow he was ready to give out the awards; win, place and show for each age group.
Beau and I decided to hang out to see if we knew anybody who won.
Of course, they announced the senior runners first.
Probably because no one much cares about how fast Pop Pop can run.
When they announced 3rd place, I thought to myself, I did better than that.
I must be mistaken.
2nd place was 46:26.
When they announced me as the winner, I must confess, I’d never been so surprised in my 63 years.
I proudly marched up front to be received by the officials who dramatically drape my gold plated metal strung on a ribbon around my neck.
On Monday I received a call from Beau excitedly informing me that I made the Philadelphia Daily News.
Well, I hadn’t murdered anybody over the weekend.
Was it the race?
I immediately went to the news stand and picked up a copy of the Daily News.
There was a whole section on the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run.
The piece included a huge list with everyone’s time divided by age category.
I quickly scanned down to 60–70.
I was one of only three entrants.
No one need to know I was destine to win a medal if I simply finished.
I was an older guy who had run for over thirty years and was undefeated in all the races I’d ever entered.
Quite an accomplishment!
Around 70 years old, I started to experience the wear and tear of 40 some years of pounding the pavement.
Elizabeth the wife of my son, Matt, was recently hired to work in the marketing department of a large insurance company.
As part of a new marketing plan to interact with the community, the company sponsored a 5k run.
Elizabeth headed the committee that brought the whole race together in the fall of 2016.
That first year, to show my support, I volunteered to put my undefeated streak on the line. I offered to run in the race.
I’m delighted to report my daughter-in-law wanted to attract as many first year participants in the race as possible. Elizabeth welcomed my return to running after my non life threatening medical retirement from the sport.
At 70, I found myself lining up with about 200 fellow runners for the initial Plan Partners 5k Run.
I DID manage to complete the run without suffering any ill effects that I could tell.
When it was announced that I was the winner of my age class, I was pleasantly surprised.It seemed that runners were constantly passing me and I don’t recall passing anyone.
I had a beautiful gold plated medal on a ribbon dramatically draped around my neck.
It was much later in the evening that Elizabeth mentioned that I was the only runner competing in the 60+ age category — male or female.
After all, it was the Planned Partner’s first year of their 5k.
Elizabeth assured me that she hoped the company would attract more runners next year and I would have some competition. Not that I particularly wanted any.
Being undefeated had its positive physic value.
The next year, the 5k drew more than 250 runners and I won again — again by being the solitary senior entrant.
Ceremony; ribbon draping, much ado about winning again.
The period following the victory, I had a challenging year physically. My rheumatoid arthritis acted up and I had some real problems with my sciatic nerve.
Any type of running involved almost a straight right leg swing rather than a normal knee bending action.
My entry in the race that year was on a TBA ,day to day notice.
My son Matt who had recently made running part of his life, altruistically offered to run the race as my companion as well as pushing his son Luke (3 years old) in a runner’s stroller.
Matt, true to his word, stuck with me although he could have gone on to be a top finisher in the stroller class..
My pace was slower than a normal walk.
Along the route, I saw a statue that appeared to be moving faster than I was.
After making sure that I was still alive; my lumbering legs continued moving, visible proof I was still breathing, Matt asked me that if I would mind if he and Luke could forge on ahead. He had sacrificed speed for loyalty for about half the race.
Mainly, I think he wanted to help Elizabeth set up the recovery/award area at the end of the race.
Neither he nor I were worried because park guards still lined the running trail if any emergency were to arise on the remainder of my run.
Matt took off with Luke. He swiftly propelled the baby stroller on the gravel path through the woods of Fairmont Park. He soon disappeared down the leafy trail.
I plodded on.
I began to notice — nobody.
No fellow runners, no trail monitor park guards, nobody even walking.
The only person making the trail not completely deserted was — me.
I lost track of time.
It was around the three quarters mark on the return part of the race I saw, what appeared to be, a runner in the distance.
I WAS ACTUALLY CATCHING UP WITH SOMEONE!
I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
The person that I could see in front of me was getting closer.
I WAS CATCHING UP FASTER THAN EVEN I IMAGINED I COULD.
I increased the swinging motion of my legs my eyes looking downward, worried about tripping on an exposed root or stumbling on a large piece of gravel.
Hey Dad, you Ok?
It was my son Matt. Apparently the park guards had worked the length of their contract with the run and had left their observation stations. Most had remained at the end of the trail and were partaking of the goodies in the reception area. Every computer chip in all runner’s bibs was accounted for — but mine.
Bottom line; out of everyone running or walking in the race, I was the only one remaining unaccounted for.
My son was checking on my welfare.
When I finally finished the race, the award ceremony already had taken place. Many runners long departed for parts unknown.
The ones that remained, however, cheered my arrival.
For the forth time I had a ceremonial gold plated medal on a colorful ribbon draped dramatically around my neck.
Again, I won by simply outliving the competition.
I retired, undefeated.
I now ride the stationary bike — destined to remain undefeated.