Week 18: the amazing race*

“This is so dumb-ass.”

That was my furtive aside to my friend and co-runner Amy as we approached mile eight of a supposed 16 mile run in the pouring rain.

“Only if it keeps raining,” she said brightly.

My glasses – without which I literally cannot see past the end of my nose – were spattered with wet, my hat a failed awning, my shoes a squishy mess. I’d decided against a jacket – it hadn’t been raining when we started out – and a cold wind cut across by bare shoulders.

One of the marathon training volunteers pulled up in his car alongside our group of nine, looking cozy and dry. “Great work, guys!” he shouted. “Keep it up!” and off he sped.

Amy sighed. “I guess we’re expected to just keep on going,” she said.

I’d been dreading this run all week. My throat was sore. I was tired. I was irritable. Yet here I was, rain falling hard, slogging along.

I confronted the first moment of doubt, real doubt, since I’d begin training more than four months ago. What was the feasibility of this whole 26.2 mile hallucination? Why was I subjecting myself to this abuse? I, a non-runner, an absolute non-athlete, a “delicate flower,” as I so often remind my six-year-old son if he so much as bumps into me.

I don’t like to run in the cold, or the heat, or the rain. I like to be cool and dry and as comfortable as possible at all times. I do most of my solo runs in the early morning, before dawn, so I don’t have to contend with the sun. I doubt I would have even attempted this training in any other city but Los Angeles. When LA doesn’t cooperate, it makes me extremely grumpy.

Adding to my sour mood was the introduction of the Amazing Race, a game Coach Scott had devised for us --inspired by the television show -- to help us get through this, our longest run yet. The game is all about geography-based trivia, and as anyone who knows me knows, I am sorely lacking in matters of geography. I’m not proud of it, and I’ve actually taken steps to ameliorate my ignorance. But I knew I was going to be of little help to my team on this one.

Mae became the keeper of the questions, and she stored them in a sealed plastic bag thoughtfully provided by Coach Scott. At each water stop we were given a new set of questions set in a new country. (“True or False: Australia is the only continent that does not have glaciers.” “A male kangaroo is called a boomer, what is a female called?”)

It turned out the rest of the group wasn’t much better than I, so we shrugged it off, did what we could and went on our way until we got to France, at mile 12.

The table was being tended by Coach Scott’s parents, Pat and Ray Boliver, who always bring snacks loaded with the sweet, salty and vinegary flavors I crave when running. Pat kept everything covered so it wouldn’t get soggy. I was so busy loading up on sliced pickles, peanuts mixed with candy corns, and Ritz crackers smeared with peanut butter –plus I was deep into that brain-numb state that settles in around mile ten-- that it took me a couple of minutes to notice the lovely cheese plate off to the side.

I headed for it immediately, but Scott’s son, Alec, stopped me. “This is part of the game,” he said, and asked me to identify the three cheeses on the plate. Easy: brie, Muenster and brie. He looked at me. My friend Amy nudged me and said, “The other ‘B.”

Oh, right. Blue. I meant blue. Alec was satisfied. Then, with a mischievous grin, he directed me to sample the blue. Pat and Ray leaned in, and all three waited, watching my face intently. I happily downed a cube, enjoying the rich, creamy mouth fug.

“Delicious,” I said. “Can I have more?”

Alec looked confused.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s stinky,” he said. “We all tried it, and it’s awful.”

Ray nodded in agreement.

“What kind of person eats a thing like that?” he wondered at me.

I might have responded with, “What kind of person stands out in the pouring rain serving cheese and crackers to a bunch of idiots who insist on running themselves to death?”

Instead I helped myself to more cheese and took off into the rain.

Though my co-runners and I lost the Amazing Race, we got the cheese. And for 16 miles we ran our hearts out -- blisters, soaking shirts, soggy hats and all -- like the foolish true believers we suddenly realized we'd become.

*I was wrong on the Muenster-- which, of course isn't French. And the blue wasn't just any blue. It was Roquefort.

3:08 PM Friday, January 30 2009 • Link •  
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