I’m running for the goal | AspenTimes.com

I’m running for the goal

After a lifetime of being a bona fide couch potato, an inexplicable burst of energy on a treadmill in 1999 inspired me to complete six marathons in seven years and has given me what will hopefully be a lasting athletic pursuit. But until I moved to Colorado, it never occurred to me to chase anyone’s times but my own during races. I never bothered to push myself beyond trying to best my previous records; I was satisfied and quietly thrilled simply to consider myself a runner.Had I never moved to Aspen and competed in races much smaller than those organized back East by the New York Road Runners, I most likely would have continued my unconscious streak of never sticking around for post-race awards ceremonies. In fact, I always assumed that all race activity ceased when I crossed the finish line. While visiting Baton Rouge last autumn, I was talked into running the Mid City Heritage 5K. My race distance preference is definitely not the 5K – I have no fast-twitch fibers so I prefer longer races that allow my body time to warm up. However, I quickly learned that warm was not an issue in Baton Rouge, even in October. At five o’clock in the afternoon, an hour before start time, it was close to 90 degrees and the only thing separating the 95-percent humidity from rain was, had it been raining, it might actually have felt less humid. Between the stifling heat and a belly full of po-boys and muffaletta sandwiches that had been consumed in what I was easily convinced was a necessary ritual when visiting the Deep South, I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of trying to move unless it was into a bed for a nap. But, since I had no race T-shirts from Louisiana, I figured I had nothing to lose. Besides, I’d feel far less guilty after the race eating their jambalaya and drinking their beer if I at least attempted to get from the start to the finish. As usual, I lined up somewhere mid-pack. And, as usual, although I felt completely inadequate as I was being passed left and right, I reminded myself that “slow and steady” was surely written with my racing style in mind. But I had difficulty gauging my progress because even though I was wearing my watch, I was unfamiliar with the course and there were no mile markers. Somewhere at what I guessed was the halfway mark, I felt a little Cajun rhythm enter my body and I decided that there was no need to reserve any energy since the course was shorter than my normal race distance. I started picking off the people who had passed me at or near the starting line. And then I started gliding by people who had been way ahead of me since the gun. I looked at my watch and assumed there was still just under a mile remaining. But then I saw a crowd on the sidewalk and I realized that there was way less than a mile to go – I was at the finish line and had kicked my old 5K record into the moist Louisiana dust, and was finishing about five minutes faster than my normal pace. I felt higher than the passengers on Willie Nelson’s tour bus after a concert.For the first time ever, I realized I might have actually won a running award. The curiosity and excitement at the prospect was too much for me, the lazy runner, so I peered over the shoulders of the race organizers as they tallied up the final results. I was the eleventh woman to finish. And while I was delighted to see there were actually more than eleven women in the race, I was disappointed to see that I was the fourth woman to finish in my age group. It appeared as though the only ribbon destined to be in my scrapbook was the one in my ponytail from my second grade class photo. While partaking in the post-race spoils, I was shocked to hear the race director announce my name. As it turns out, my eyesight wasn’t as keen as I thought – apparently I was the third place finisher in my age group. I felt like I had just won an Academy Award. My heart racing, I walked up and received the frilly yellow ribbon. Had I been told five years earlier that I would ever win an award, I would have assumed it would be for Fastest TV Channel Changer. But there I was – a bona fide running race age-category-placer.For a few days, anyway. When I got back to Aspen, I printed out the official race times to keep as a memento alongside my ribbon. My ego shrunk substantially after scanning the results. Out of the 26 female finishers in the race, there were three others besides me in my age group. And one of them was the overall female winner. I was a default placer because, like in many races, the overall winner wasn’t also eligible for an age category award. An asterisk would forever accompany my crowning achievement.But, in the annals of the history of me, the somewhat-blemished feat is still a milestone. The former couch potato is a runner, a marathoner and now, an award-winner*. Meredith Cohen proudly finished 479th out of 697 total runners in the Boulder Backroads Marathon last Sunday. Questions or comments may be e-mailed to meredith_cohen@hotmail.com

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