Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Finally Won My First Race!

I Finally Won My First Race!
Martin Bodek

If at first you don’t succeed, try 228 more times. Then you’ll finally get it right.

I think that was the lesson when I finally won my first race after running for 21 years.

The lesson took me a long time to properly learn, but I got hints along the way.

It has always been a dream of mine, but I’ve never known if it would ever be fulfilled.

Some Masters have been making the news lately, beating the pants off of neophytes, especially at long distance racing and loooooooooong distance racing. A 57-year old won a marathon in Colorado, a 61-year old won a marathon in India, a 77-year old won a 48-hour race in Tennessee. Would I have to wait that long?

The highest I had ever placed, prior to recent events, was a bronze medal finish at a JRunners race many years ago. First place seemed sooooooooooo far away, and I was very happy with my little glass trophy, but I also thought: when is it my turn? What do I have to do? How fast do I have to be? How much weight do I have to lose? Do I have to do speed training? Fartleks? Do I need a coach or trainer? What? Do I have to kill myself, when I really just want to enjoy myself?

I wasn’t listening to the answer, but I got another hint.

A running friend of mine “accidentally” won a marathon when he signed up for a 50k on a looping course, but legally cut his day short and finished his day at the marathon finish line. Turns out he was the first one in! He won! I marveled at this strange, good fortune, but never internalized why he won in the first place.

A jolly friend of mine – a bona-fide Cyldesdale – managed to win a small race in Brooklyn, putting in a quick – but essentially pedestrian – speed, to emerge the victor. I was too jealous to realize why he’d won. All I thought was: I’m a Light Clydesdale. Why him? Why not me? How small a race does it have to be? I don’t want to be a pony.

Three times the charm, they say. Right?

A good friend of mine – looking for a mid-week marathon – joined up with a series called Mainly Marathons. They pick regions in the United States to stage 5 different marathons in 5 different states over 5 consecutive days – obviously all travelable within a few hours – plot a course, and have at it. He won, twice, and I thought: why can’t I win? I show up enough to these things, don’t I?


What was being shown to me all along – and what I finally internalized – was that if you show up to enough of these things and maintain good fitness, eventually things will go your way. You don’t have to do speedwork, rip up muscles, and wind up on the shelf, miserable for months.

How about another cliché?: chance favors the prepared.

So how did I win my little race? Well, essentially, by doing what all of the above did: showing up enough, putting in more and more easy-does-it long mileage, and finally having something fall my way.

The story goes like this: I’m a big Festivus fan.Yuge. Two years ago, I was looking for a Festivus race, so I could appreciate the holiday from all angles. The only one I could find that I could attend was a virtual 5k one. Interesting. You run whenever, you report your time, you get mailed a medal. Sweet. I signed up, ran, and placed sixth!

Last year, I signed up again for the 5k, and placed 2nd! Whoa!

Enjoying my Silver Medal this time, I looked for more virtual races, as I was excited by my sudden success. I signed up for the New Year’s virtual race, at the 10k distance, and placed 2nd again!

Nowhere to go but up, right? Right. I signed up for the Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. 5k, and not only improved my virtual Festivus 5k by a big chunk of time, but I placed first. First!

I kept checking the website, day after day after day, to see if anyone had reported a faster time. No one did. I was the fastest, I won. Me. Champ.

As a bonus, I got my MLK Gold Medal upon returning from a vacation to Washington DC, where my favorite part of the trip was anything to do with Dr. King, a man I admire very much.

So here’s the lesson I finally learned: show up enough, and you’ll get what you want. It may take some time, but you’ll get there. Just keep plugging away, run lots of miles, and it’ll happen for you (Ed Whitlock inspired me down this path, and he passed as I was writing this. May he rest in peace). I don’t think I’ll be 57 before I win a race in the non-virtual world. It’ll happen some time before that. Because so long as these good, strong legs keep carrying me, I’ll be out there, and I’m going to make things happen. Along the way, I might even get a little faster too, as BQing is another of my goals.

Because, as a wise man once said: if you hang around the barbershop long enough…sooner or later you’re gonna get a haircut.