Crazy? You bet! Our sixteen year old son was looking for a 5K race for his benchmark this past weekend. With it being 100+ degrees in Dallas these days, there are no races to be had, so if he wanted to race, we were going to have to drive. Most people wouldn’t dream of driving for such a short race, but I am positively certifiable and thought it would be an adventure. I found a race in Eureka Springs, Arkansas that looked promising. The temperature would be at least ten degrees cooler than at home, so I jumped on the idea of getting out of town, even for two days. Only after I registered him did I find a copy of the course map with the elevation. Hmmm. I might have screwed up. Apparently, this race is in the mountains. Yikes. We don’t have mountains in Dallas and I’m not sure Alex is ready for a crazy steep climb over a span of a mile. Well, we’ll just hope for the best, right??? (Insert Cheshire Cat-grin here..)
The night before
After a nine mile long run with our training groups Saturday morning, we piled into the car and drove the six hours to Arkansas. We made it to the hotel and I got directions to the local Italian restaurant and we took off. It wasn’t easy to find at first with all of the winding mountain roads. My poor phone navigation was a mess. Ermilio’s doesn’t take reservations, but was highly recommended, so we put our name on the list and was told the wait would be an hour and a half. We began walking around and I realized that we were on the course that Alex would run the next morning, so we passed by the hotel and changed into our running shoes to walk the rest of it. It was such fun to see the little town and all of the springs in town. This is truly a historical little town with so many beautiful Victorian homes. A tumble down the steep mountainside left Alex with a big gash on the back of his leg and us finding a grocery store for some band aids and Neosporin. That’s about how our trips roll. On at least two occasions in the course walk, I turned around a mouthed something inappropriate to my husband about the steepness of the climb. Seriously, I was starting to worry…
The morning was beautiful! Alex and I walked the quarter-mile downhill from the hotel to the start line to pick up his bib. He did a short warm-up and then lined up. I look over at the start and see him cutting up with one of the other runners his age. I always wonder what they talk about right before a race. He started the race pretty conservatively, as everyone did, knowing what was ahead of him. I texted Sean and told him to be on the lookout. He and our daughter stayed behind at the hotel to cheer him on at the 2.5 mile spot which signaled the end of the uphill and the beginning of the 200′ drop in elevation in about a half mile. I asked Sean to text me when Alex passed by and to tell me how many runners were ahead of him. It was just at 16 minutes elapsed when he passed and I got the text that there was only one runner ahead of him by about 20 seconds. I jumped up, excited that he would be approaching very soon. But it took forever for him to come. Five runners passed by and he was nowhere. The only thing I could think of was that he fell. But around the bend he came at a speed that was unreal. He was yelling and clearly agitated. The course wasn’t clearly marked, there was no lead car or bike, and the course monitor was apparently more interested in his phone rather than the race. Both the lead runner and Alex took a wrong turn. Alex made it about a quarter-mile before he realized he was off-course. Thank goodness we walked the course the night before!! He quickly turned around, but had to seriously climb yet another sizeable mountainside. By the time he got back onto the course, he flew, picking off ten runners like they were standing still. His Garmin topped him out at a 4 minute mile on that descent. He finished sixth (second in his age group) with a course distance of 3.6 miles.
The mother of the runner that veered significantly off course literally went grape ape on the Race Director in front of everyone. She demanded that they give her son the first place win and change his finish time to what it “should have been.” For a moment, I saw who I used to be as a hockey mom and it scared the living daylights out of me. My son smiled and said that I wasn’t THAT mom and he felt bad for the kid because he looked humiliated and angry. We discussed the race and I reminded him of a phrase we have used frequently by an old coach: “Humble in Victory, Gracious in Defeat.” Alex would be measured not by his finish time of one single race in his lifetime, but how he chooses to react would form who he becomes in the future.
The Race Director was calm under pressure and, while he sympathized with the boy’s issue, he reminded everyone during the award ceremony that sometime this happens to the fastest of runners. They don’t have anyone to follow, which is why it is so very important to know the course. Does it suck that he didn’t win the race? Absolutely! Is it crummy that his finish time wasn’t what he wanted? Sure. But that’s why we race. Any weekend, anyone can win. That’s the beauty of it.
We would probably come race The Eurekan again. It was a small race with not a lot of frills, but the course was challenging enough to want to tackle it again. His glutes might disagree, though. 🙂