Most of you know I like to run. At my age it has become the only competitive athletic event I still do on a regular basis. Sure I like to shoot, mountain bike, play golf and swim but running is my sport. Running is the thing I consistently do day in and day out. I am always training for my next race, races that I obsessively plan out months in advance. This keeps me from becoming a has-been coach potato if only for 30 minutes a day. This is all somewhat strange as I was never a runner as a youngster. When I was young running was only a means to an end. I never ran track or cross country in high school although I wish I had. I ran to lose weight for wrestling, I was a wrestler and running was the unpleasant torture I put myself through to become a lighter one. After high school when I joined the military running was still a necessary evil. As a paratrooper we ran in boots in tight formation singing cadence at the top of our lungs. Later when I started attending a few elite schools like US Army Ranger School and the Special Forces Qualification Course running was used as punishment and to weed out the weak. As the saying goes you don't have to be the fastest just don't be the slowest.
Eventually I made my way to my first Special Forces assignment on ODA 085 Ft Devens Massachusetts. In Special Forces everyday was a competition. When we lined up for our morning run there was no easy day, we took off like bats out of hell trying our best to beat our teammates back to the team room after covering the predetermined route. Fortunately or unfortunately my team had some phenomenal athletes. One in particular, Carl could run like no one I had ever met before. Everyday I would try to catch him and inevitably he would leave us all in the dust. However as time went by I started noticing that although I never caught Carl I was starting to beat my other teammates on a regular basis.
As time went by Carl made a permanent change of station move and my team deployed to Incirlik Turkey to provide Combat Search and Rescue coverage for the Iraqi no fly zone, that was in place after the Gulf War. By the power of circumstance I had now become the fastest guy on the team.We would run the 8 miles around the airfield for team PT and I would just fly, letting my legs take me where they wanted. The rhythmic drumming of the Native American music my wife had sent me played through my head as I sucked air deep into my lungs and ran towards the rising sun. At the end of the run I would stop in front of our team GP large tent and patiently wait for the rest of my teammates to catch up. I think it was in Incirlik where I started to enjoy running just for the joy of running.
I was making our bed the other day and I noticed the design for the Groton Road race on the "quilt of awesomeness" my Mother made for me out of old race t shirts.
Reading the date I realized it was 20 years ago this month that I ran my first competitive race. We had returned to Ft Devens from Incirlik some months earlier. One day while we were hanging around the team room one of my teammates mentioned that there was a guy on another team that had paid to run in this 10 kilometer race in nearby Groton, Ma but he would not be able to run the race. He was giving away his entry and wanted to know if anyone wanted it. For some reason I thought that sounded like a good idea, so I was in.
I woke up the morning of the race and drove the few miles to Groton from where I lived in Pepperell. I parked in front of the school and went inside to check in. I had to tell a little white lie and make the people believe that I was the other fella but they gave me my number, tshirt and safety pins. I asked them what the pins were for? They told me it was to put my number on my shirt ( new guys, geeez). I kinda milled around with the rest of the folks at the starting line until they announced the race was about to begin. I had no idea where to stand so I just stood in the middle of the group. Plus or minus a few minutes from race time a starter pistol went off and the pack started surging forward. Being in the middle wasn't the best plan as I got stuck behind a bunch of people walking or jogging across the start line. Eventually I worked my way to the outside and tried to make up some time by running off road on the people lawns that bordered the course. I jumped back on the road as we took a hard right and headed out of town. I had no idea how far 10K was compared to what I usually ran and I had no concept of pace. I was just running as hard as I could until someone told me to stop. The course wended its way on country roads through the beautiful New England countryside. After 21 years I don't remember a lot of race details I just remember we ran up and down hills and through neighborhoods and villages. It was exhilarating to be part of this inaugural road race.
We turned back towards Groton and finished where we had started. I crossed the finish line somewhere under 40 minutes and in the top third of the racers. I was tired but I was hooked. In the years since this first race I have run too many 5 and 10K races to keep track of. I have run a dozen half marathons (13.1 miles) and 7 actual marathons (26.2 miles). Currently I am on an ultra marathon/trail race kick and have finished three 50K races with some 50 milers planned for this summer. Although I am definitely not the fastest anymore or even in the top third, running has become my hobby and my passion. It all started on a whim 21 years ago.