July 4, 2017. Here I am in Richland, Washington to visit my mom and attend my niece’s wedding. Whenever I descend to elevations near sea level (or anywhere below 4000 feet above sea level), I sometimes think I can clock a better-than-normal time in a 5K foot race. Today I have this thought, and I decide to join the Patriot Camp Fun Run 5K over in Pasco early this morning. Here it is less than four hundred vertical feet above the Pacific Ocean. Theoretically, there should be more oxygen available for panting lungs and surging blood.
I show up at 7:15 and hand them $35 to register for the 5K race. I am half-way back in the crowded pack when the gun goes off and struggle to weave my way past the slower folks, but soon I am out on the road and have a clear path. About a mile into the race, I see the pace displayed on my GPS watch… 7:37 per mile. This is 15 seconds per mile slower than I had run an entire 5K in Lyons, Colorado (at 5300 foot elevation) last week, but there was still time to pick up the pace.
Ahead I see a course marshal directing traffic, and I notice some chalk scribbles on the asphalt. As I pass the marshal, I hear conversations about the 1 mile race verses the 5K loop and the guy directing traffic says, “Turn left here if you are on the 5K. It’s written on the ground, just read it.” He seemed abrupt and somewhat short, but I had never been on this course before and I just needed to follow instructions. A younger guy I was running with said, “Are you sure? The course seems different than last year.” But the pack I was running with all turned left. I estimated that I had run an extra 30-40 feet in the confusion and wasn’t too happy about that, but oh well.
So around the field we went again, and a mile later we came to the same intersection. This time we went straight on the bike path that went parallel to the highway up and over a hump and down a slope to a U-turn. I didn’t notice it at first, but I started passing many runners that were running much slower than I was. Coming from the opposite direction were runners who had completed the out-and-back path along the highway. Some of them seemed my age, and they were not running very fast. All I could think was, “the runners here must go out way too fast and then slow way down.” But I kept running, weaving around the slower runners that seemed to always be in my way. When I checked my watch, the pace showed I was slowing way down. My pace for Mile #2 was 7:57. Yikes!
Later I looked at the mileage on my watch, it was already at 3 miles but the finish line was way off in the distance, over the hill, around the corner, through the parking lot, and down into the ball field. At this point I thought, “Well, this is much more than a 5K, so the time will be long, but I still may be able to place 2nd or 3rd in my age group.” I was, after all, passing a lot of 50-something old men.
So for the last of my 4 miles I pass many more runners. I run around to the back of the parking lot and down into the baseball field. I sprint around the loop through the outfield and pass at least a half dozen more runners before crossing the finish line.
Within the shade of the dugout and with a bottle of water in my hand, I look again at my watch and say to a couple ladies there that it was a 4.1 mile course instead of a regular 3.1 mile / 5K course. One of the ladies looks at her watch and says, “No, my watch says 2.9 miles and it is usually accurate.” The other lady agrees with me and says that her watch measured 4.1 miles. That is when it all becomes clear. I ask the first lady how many times she ran around that first field. “What do you mean? Just once.” Ah-ha! Confirmed. Any hopes of placing in my age group were now dashed and after finishing the bottle of water, I head for the car. On the way out, I mention the course marshal’s misdirection to one of the volunteers and he says he heard there was a problem but didn’t know what it was.
This is one of my pet peeves. Course marshals have only two jobs… 1) to make sure no one takes a short cut, and 2) to guide delirious runners through the proper route so they don’t need to stop and consult a map. Do those who organize these fund-raising races focus much on training the volunteers, at least getting them familiar with the course route? I know this is certainly not the first time this has happened.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
(from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5)
When Jesus asked us to go the extra mile, he probably did not mean it in the context of a foot race — but I know he did not intend for us to complain about it, especially for such a “first-world problem” like this. I stand admonished. Regardless, writing this complaint was cathartic, and besides, this was supposed to be a “Fun Run” — at least I got to run an extra mile for free.