Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The canine of defeat

Saturday’s Polar Dash 10K was notable for two reasons: I snagged a PR and, for the first time, managed to get beaten by a dog.

As context, I’ve been beaten in a race by just about everyone: old people, children (LOTS of children), blind runners being led by guides, you name it. I once, in a moment of truly shameful competitiveness, launched into a near-sprint in order to beat an amputee up a hill during a half marathon. It was NOT my finest moment. (Although I did flash him a thumbs up as I ran by. So there’s that. But seriously, when you’re in the back of the pack, the chance to pass someone – ANYONE – is both thrilling and rare.)

However, Saturday marked my first defeat by an actual canine.

Lining up for the unusually warm race (I busted out cropped pants and a t-shirt for the 40-degree start), I spotted a woman in front of me with a tote bag slung around her shoulder. But this wasn’t just any tote bag: this bag carried a white, shaggy, Muppety -looking tiny dog, who appeared totally content to just hang there like he (or she) lined up in a race corral every weekend.

Inching closer, I heard the woman say she and her husband brought the dog, but didn’t expect to run the race with it. Somehow, though, here she was, in the 12:00 +/mile area, getting ready to start her 6.2-mile race with the dog and purse in tow.

I turned to a girl behind me.

“We HAVE to be able to run faster than the woman doing the race with the DOG,” I said.

We eyed the lady suspiciously. She was blonde. Maybe in her 40s. Maybe in her 50s. Lithe. This description definitely did NOT apply to either of us.

“I don’t know if I can,” said The Girl Behind Me.

“Yeah, um. I’m not sure if I can either,” I said, eyeing Dog Lady like I was on my third drink in a bar.

With that, the race started.

I moved to the side and tried to find my pace and entertain myself, leapfrogging a few other run-walkers. I’ve been working hard to improve my pace, so I tried to accelerate a bit with every passing mile. The race had a few weird moments: the 5K group seemed to miss the turnaround. We all seemed to miss the first water stop.

Mile 4 dragged. At Mile 5 I decided to try to pick up the pace even more, figuring the faster I’d run, the faster I’d be done. That’s when I spotted her: Dog Lady was walking ahead of me. And holy hell, I was going to catch her.

I ran faster and inched closer. Every time I got close enough to start to pass her, she’d begin to trot, dog carrier in hand. It went like this for almost a mile. Then finally – FINALLY – around the 6 mile marker, I did it. I PASSED THE WOMAN AND HER DOG.

“HAHAHAHAHA,” I thought victoriously to myself, as I approached the last turn before the finish line. “ I'M GOING TO BEAT THE WOMAN WITH THE DOG.”

We ran under an underpass and entered Grant Park at the base of a hill that’d lead us to the finish line. That’s when it happened. Woman With The Dog began to speed up the hill. I have a firm policy to always sprint the end of the race, but she was starting well before I was ready. Pumping my arms and legs I tried to catch her as an onlooker yelled: “Look! First place in the dog division!"

I won't lie: I contemplated a "bite me" retort.

Blonde Lady kept going, crossing the finish line about five seconds before I charged through.

I stopped my Garmin and tried to breathe. I looked up, hoping to find her and her furry companion to at least say "thank you" for pushing me. Thanks in part to the two of them, I’d cut about 2:20 off my best 10K time that'd I'd recorded in November.

But by then, she and the dog had disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe next year we'll have a rematch.


Erin said...

Dogs are FAST! Even little ones. Helloooo, they have FOUR legs!

Margie said...

This is my favorite running story of yours ever.

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Anonymous said...

I think you are describing me and my 13year old maltese. we also did the lucky seven race. Darlene.