It is sweltering and the sun is blazing and I’m feeling surprisingly sprite at mile five of the Too Hot to Handle 15K at White Rock Lake. Like I’d planned, I was running easy with a full understanding of how suddenly and how hard the Texas heat can throw you to the ground, make you its wife, and stomp on your soul until it’s part of the sizzling asphalt.
Then I hear some very labored breathing behind me. A woman, a muscular, long legged woman, passes me. She is working so hard, I think. There is no way she can keep this up. So I stick beside her. She sounds like a Russian tennis player, grunting every few feet, but she maintains. We still have three miles to go, I tell her at six. I know, she replies in a voice that seems fairly controlled despite the heaving. We have some conversation: We’re going to get that dude in the yellow shirt, she evilly (and accurately) predicts. The two of us alternate positions a couple of times, and at mile seven I feel like I’m about to crack, so I resign to let her go.
That’s about that time that a course guide says, you’re the fifth female and you’re the sixth, pointing at me, then, right beside me, her.
Damn it: top five sounds so much more bragworthy than sixth. (Mind you, there is an overall female and male prize, and a medal for the top three in each age group—no top-five female, or even top-three for that matter, award). So I decide to battle on. I get behind her and stick close for an excruciating mile and a half. With about 800 meters to go, I throw it into overdrive. I pass my new nemesis, frenziedly pumping my arms and legs. Now I sound like a tennis player/vocal porn star.
There is a shockingly painful pounding in my chest at this point and, in my head, I can hear the evening newscaster announcing the unfortunate Sunday-morning death of a Dallas runner, just feet from the finish line. I even visualize, for a second, the comments following the Dallas Morning News story: readers overwhelmingly agree that I “was asking for it”, and that I am “an idiot”, and … and they would be right. Not one mention, by the way, of how tragically close was my reach to the coveted and glorious and entirely not officially recognized in any way fifth-place female spot.
But I don’t die. In fact, I see that she is now safely behind me so I slow slightly until I am safely at the feet of a volunteer who places an ice-cold towel across my neck. I love you.
It isn’t until later, when I look at the official results, that I realize my competitor actually beat me by a good 20 seconds—all the result of a crowded start line and chip-timing technology.