So I ran in the Corporate Cup last Sunday. Yeah, I know. Big whoop, right? Actually, “ran in the Corporate Cup” isn’t quite right. More like I “jogged in the Corporate Cup.”
If I sound a little down on myself it’s because I just got the official results from the Corporate Cup people, and apparently I came in 2,265th place among 3,899 runners -- 1,369th among 1,885 men -- placing me squarely in the bottom third of finishers.
I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad. I started running late in life, only about a year ago. As a kid, I always considered myself an athlete whether I was one or not, getting picked first when it came time to divide into teams for a game of street football. I was fast, or at least I thought I was. But that all ended when my family moved to Ft. Calhoun. There is no street football when you live two miles from town on a gravel road.
In school, organized sports had always been out of the question. Instead, I spent my weekends working at my parents’ discount store, running a cash register from the age of 13. Every year came the annual Physical Fitness test in gym class. I did well enough in the sit-ups category, but was among that group of kids throwing up next to the track after trying to run the required 880 meters.
Running had never been for me and stayed that way when I got to college. By then I’d started lifting weights and playing tennis and racquetball at UNO. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I decided to try running after finally having a hernia repaired that had plagued me for years due to fear of surgery.
Like everyone else, I started slow. My first run was about a half-mile, barely far enough to make it from my front steps to Memorial Park. Walking back home winded, I thought it was hopeless. Two days later, I got a little further. Then two days after that I made it past the swing sets, then all the way to Dodge Street and finally, a full mile. And it only took 12 minutes.
Before long, the mile stretched to one-and-a-half. After a month, I made it all the way around the park and home -- two full miles. I felt like I climbed Mt. Everest. But when I mentioned my accomplishment to running friends at work they smirked, especially when I told them my time -- about 22 minutes. Was I running on crutches? Was I blindfolded? Eventually I got my distance to three miles at just under 10 minutes a mile. I only had one goal left.
Look, I’ve never had any aspirations of running a marathon or half-marathon. At 6’ 2” 205 pounds, my knees and hips will never allow it. My goal was merely to run the Corporate Cup -- all 10k of it. By the beginning of August, I began picking up the pace. I pushed my 5k to a full four miles. I was going to be ready this year.
If you’ve never been, the Corporate Cup is like a giant religious gathering involving thousands of people dressed in loud company T-shirts. The shirt designs usually involve molding a company's logo into a multicolored tennis shoe print or a drawing of a logo made to look like a grotesque creature with wiry legs and feet wearing a sweat band.
Moments before the 9 a.m. start, everyone was herded to the street next to the Civic Auditorium, no one quite sure if they’re in the right place, everyone doing last-minute calf stretches against the curb. Meanwhile the “elite” runners were cordoned off in front of us, segregated so they won’t have to squeeze past our fat asses later on.
And then, they’re off... walking. It isn’t for another 100 yards that people began a slow jog and then eventually, full-on jogging and running. Eager achievers shouldered their way past each other, jockeying for position. I maintained my usual steady pace, which meant constantly being passed by women, children, the elderly, the slightly overweight, people in costumes, even people pushing baby carriages. “Go ahead,” I’m thought to myself, “we’ll see who’s in front of who at mile six.”
By mile two, the real runners were coming at us in the other direction already headed for home -- skeletal-thin bald guys chugging away at a full clip, followed by... women, children, the elderly, people pushing baby carriages, even a guy in a full-length Scooby Doo costume. All would be comfortably across the finish line by the time I hit the turnaround point.
For the last two miles I paced myself behind a slightly overweight bald man who must have been in his late 70s. At the very least I had to keep up with him, but I struggled. Meanwhile, I began noticing more and more people dropping off, stricken with cramps or bad knees or hips, or simply lacking the will to run any further.
It wasn’t until the last mile that I realized I was going to make it. Despite a slight pinch in my hip I pushed myself, egged on by the crowd lining the street, eventually even passing my old fat running buddy.
I crossed the finish line with the digital timer reading 1:02:50, missing my 10-minute-per-mile goal by mere seconds. Disheartened, I searched for water, grabbed a couple bottles, and walked back to the finish line to root on all the people who were finishing behind me.
I know I'll never finish in the top half of the runners; I'll be lucky to work my way out of the bottom third. And as dejected as I feel about my poor time, in the end, I'm okay with it because I've come to accept that I’m lucky to be running at all, and that the only person I'm competing against is myself.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.