It was a dark and stormy night ….
Really, I’m not stealing that phrase, even though it came from famed novelist, Bulwer-Lytton who was known for his purple prose, which, according to the venerable Wikipedia is “prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself,” but despite its fancy definition—a definition which reminds me of molasses running downhill on a hot day—I believe it’s a form of writing that’s so terrible it might not even be purple but more like red because that’s what people see when they read writing like that … red like the color of my true love’s hair—except Russ has no hair on top and what’s left on the sides is silvery—or love that’s like a red, red, rose, which, by the way, was written by the Scotsman, Robert Burns, and I’m pretty certain that he never wrote purple prose, but it could be that he wore a purple kilt.
But, I digress … it really was a dark and stormy night. Despite having almost killed myself by inhaling my gum in a previous 5K, in Mona, Utah, I’d
The good thing about it was that unlike last summer in Mona, no dust lingered in the air to clog the sinuses. Instead, rain fell from the sky in torrents, lightening flashed overhead, and voices screeched in the night. Well, maybe that was just the little ol’ lady in front of me trying to clear her throat, but all the same ….
When we finished the first leg of the course, I noticed odd street markers that said things like, “Here lies Betty Joe, who lost her foot in last year’s snow. She ran a Halloween 5K and regrets it, under ground, this day.”
I looked at Russ to see if he’d noticed. He seemed oblivious to the oddness as he ran along in triple layers consisting of long underwear, a bright orange tee shirt that read, “Psych Ward, 666” and a sweatshirt that didn’t have any slogan … unless you include that spot of chicken soup left over from lunch. Perspiration dripped off his bald head and into his eyes. I said, “Don’t you think you’re a little overdressed for running?”
He wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’m keeping my muscles warm.”
I resisted the temptation to ask what muscles, and instead said, “Did you see that weird street sign back there?”
Russ slowed to a walk, which kept him even with me as I ran my hardest. “It wasn’t a street sign, Cindy, it was a headstone. This course runs through the town’s cemetery.”
I shuddered at the thought, which caused me to stumble over my own two feet. “I’m not sure I remembered that when we registered," I muttered, and then wondered if those were the voices of other runners on the wind, or ghosties in the graveyard.
The full moon came out from behind the clouds just enough for me to see the glow sticks fastened around various parts of the anatomies of the other 3,250 runners—the glow sticks being a tribal symbol to signify acceptance of the runner’s spiritual code.
Okay, so maybe I exaggerate slightly. There were only about 250 runners. The other 3,000 were smart enough to come in out of the rain and they’d all stayed home. The glow sticks were so we could see each other, and for the most part, runners fastened them around their necks. That is, all except for Russ, who hung them off his ears.
What can I say? I brought Russ along for comic relief, so that I wouldn’t notice the torturous leg cramps that would inevitably happen because I hadn’t trained for the race.
Knowing how easy it would be to trip in a pothole, I whipped out my trusty flashlight—the one that normally sat in my well-stocked, emergency preparedness kit. (All right, I'll tell the truth, I'd actually bought it at the hardware store just an hour before.) Russ looked over, and if it hadn’t been so dark, I swear I would have seen that gleam in his eye. “Here, let me carry that flashlight for you,” he said, ever so sweetly. I handed it over, thinking what a kind and noble man my bald-headed knight was.
By now we’d struggled up Snob Hill, which actually may have been Knob Hill, but I couldn’t clearly hear the name as the staff shouted it from the side of the road. Why didn’t they use a megaphone? How could I possibly hear correctly over the sound of my lungs screaming for air?
Down the hill we went. Thank goodness the American Fork police had parked a cruiser, with its bright lights flashing, to mark the last leg of the course. Yes, very bright lights. Blinding lights! Spots covered the interior of my eyeballs; I sideswiped the cop standing in the road, and almost turfed it when I ran into the curb.
Righting myself, I zeroed in on Russ’s voice. “We’re near the end, Cin. You can do it. Keep going. We’re going to beat our previous time!”
And that’s when I remembered my resolve to finish ahead of him. I’d almost done it at last year’s 5K and if it hadn’t been for that pesky piece of gum lodging itself in my throat and cutting off my wind, I would have made it.
A toasty glow enveloped me at the thought that I had outsmarted Russ. Either that or I was in the last stage of hypothermia, where you feel warm and then drop dead from the cold, damp air. At any rate, it didn’t matter which. I was bound to beat him because I’d tossed my gum before we even got to American Fork.
The blue, electronic finish light lay only yards ahead. I psyched my mind and strengthened my loins. This was it. My course was clear. I would put on a burst of speed, pass Russ and beat him at the last moment. I would be the fastest runner in the family, I would be ….
Russ whirled toward me, the flashlight in his hands instantaneously blinding me. “Ha ha, I win!” he said, sprinting toward the finish line. Well, I think he sprinted. He could have crawled and still beaten me, because I staggered in circles like a drunken sailor, trying to clear my vision.
Oh, he’s a speedy runner all right, but cunning and stealth beat speed every time.
As I caught up to him after crossing the finish line, we lurched into the recreation center where an official-looking woman said, “Did you win?”
We shrugged our shoulders, and I said, “How would we know?”
The woman stared at us like this was only our second race and we didn’t know what we were doing, and then said, “It’s on your time card.” She took them from us, looked them over and then handed them back to us. “You’ve won second place in your age group,” she said to Russ over the noise of the crowd.
Russ, the bald-headed, hard-of-hearing knight, looked at me and said, “What did she say?”
Before I had a chance to answer, she gave my card back to me. “You’ve won third place in your age group.” Then she handed Russ’s second place ribbon to me and handed my third place ribbon to Russ.
Russ looked at white ribbon in his hand and said, “So, I guess I took third place in my age group?”
I grinned—a sardonic, "gotcha" grin. “Guess so. And I got a second place ribbon!”
Technically, it wasn’t a lie, because after all, the official did hand me that ribbon. And maybe I’ll eventually tell Russ he won second place. Someday. Before the next race. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep reminding him that cunning and stealth beat speed every time.
------© C.L. (Cindy) Beck------
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