As "E" wave approached the starting line of the Bolder Boulder, I remembered to switch my watch into stopwatch mode to keep track of my splits, especially the first couple of miles because I have a tendency to go out too fast. Today would be different. And although I was excited to be there and ready to go, I was thinking more about life-time than clock time.
Earlier in the week I learned that two friends from my youth had died, in their sixties, from cancer. Their names were Bill Slauson and Jim McCurry. Bill was a university teacher, researcher, philosopher and botanist. Jim was a college professor and poet. Both were good men with many talents. I wished, too late, that I had followed their lives more closely, but the tides carried us in different directions, to different places and interests.
The crack of the starting gun brought me back to realtime. No time for deep thoughts and reminiscences, the race was on! I punched my stopwatch. 29th Street was smoother and more forgiving than I was used to. I felt too strong to stop and listen to the Blues Brothers at .6 miles, and passed through the first mile 30 seconds faster than planned. Then I ran right by the great Elvis impersonator at 1.8 miles and was still under pace. I ran by a water station. Of course, when it dawned on me the pace was unsustainable, it was too late. The lactic acid was already doing its work. By the time I got to the belly dancers at mile 3, I was slowing, but I didn't want to lose more time than necessary and try to get back on pace, so I ran by them too.
I pushed through the next couple miles, which is slightly downhill. With a mile left, I passed a mother and her 10-ish son, who was holding his side. He told his mom he wanted to walk because his side hurt. She said, "No, we need to stay on pace. This is a race." Most of the people passing me were younger, and I remembered how a few decades ago I used to be able to run more than two minutes a mile faster than I do now, but even then I wished it was faster. Although I felt heavy and tired, time flew, and before I knew it I was on the bouncy track inside Folsom Stadium.
As I crossed the finish, I stopped my watch -- no surprise, slower than I wished. Another Bolder Boulder. In some ways I was more disappointed that I didn't take the time to catch more of the eclectic entertainment along the course. I always assume that the Blues Brothers and Elvis and all the others will always be there as they have been for years, but someday they won't, nor will I. Races are measured in fractions of seconds, seconds, minutes. It's fun to pretend those times are important, though in the great scheme of things we know they aren't.
Standing in a long line of several long lines to pick up post-race refreshments, the 20-something in front of me told his friend, "Man, I don't know what happened to me. I trained harder than ever. I worked my ass off. Then I run slower than last year." I felt his pain.
After drinking a free Ultra Michelob beer (not bad for 8:30 am -- after a race everything is permitted), I walked to my car to get some dry clothes. I passed a guy in his late teens, who was on a cell phone. He was explaining that he ran it in 44 minutes but felt like shit, maybe because he ate a giant burrito from a fast food joint the night before. He just didn' t know what happened. I felt his pain, too.
After I got back to the stadium, a friend joined me up in the stands where we meet every year after the citizens race to watch to elite races and the Memorial Day celebration. I asked him how it went. He said he had a good race, but wasn't able to break his PR. He and a friend from his running club pushed hard the first three kilometers but realized it just wasn't there and they cruised the rest. He was a little disappointed, though his time was great for a TOJ. I didn't feel his pain. There's no telling how good he might have been during his prime when he was in medical school, which I'm sure he thinks about as well.
Later my wife joined us. This was the first time she had run a full 10K. After walking it for years, she decided to run it. She had trained hard and completed the course faster than ever. I was glad for her. There were no if onlys, excuses, regrets. Just deep fatigue and satisfaction. She said next year she would try to beat her time, though it would be harder because she would be a year older. Whoops, I realized she had caught the bug. I wondered why these target times are so important and why they are usually just out of reach. Is it a yet-to-be-named psychiatric disorder common to runners?
Each year now, my goal is to run a time in minutes less than my age in years. So far, so good. But soon, I will reach the crossover point, where I can't anymore. When that time comes, I'll still participate in the Bolder Boulder and stop and listen to a whole song by the Blues Brothers and Elvis and the young bands too. I'll dance with the belly dancers.
1972 Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter did the live commentary for the elite women's and men's races, which were on the JumboTron. He told a stadium full of 40,000 plus people that the elites were running at a very fast pace, and added for every runner there, at all levels, that weather could not be used as an excuse for a slow time because it was perfect. In fact, he said, the atmospheric conditions were actually pooling additional oxygen onto the course, which is above 5,000 feet, that would help everyone run faster.
He was right, the weather was perfect for the race. Everything about the race was perfect, whether you ran it slow or fast. The Bolder Boulder is one of the great ones. The race, the bands, the volunteers, the elites, the skydivers, the tribute to veterans. The final event of the day was a low fly over by three dark fighters that roared above against an even darker sky. All the time we had been enjoying the scene in the stadium, a black thunderhead had been sneaking up from the south.
The second the jets passed, marking the end of the 2009 Bolder Boulder, the rain came down hard. We were all soaked and happy.
I remembered of a couple lines by the great poet Dylan Thomas:
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
I thought about what a beautiful day it was, and how time passes. We are so lucky to be alive.