19:56

In 12-degree weather, no less!!!!

Yep, I got my sub-20. Just goes to show that if you keep at it, eventually you’ll find a course that is flat and fast enough for you to achieve your goal—ha ha!!!

Before I left for the Jingle Bell 5k this morning, the weather websites really were reading around 11 degrees. Undaunted, I bundled up in my long undies, running tights, wool socks, gloves, wind cap, sweater, etc. etc. I got in the car and blasted the heat. When I got there, there were four or five cars parked next to the park and a handful of people huddled together at the registration table.

I unsuspectingly stepped out of my car and something freaky happened: I started shivering uncontrollably! “C’mon,” I told myself, as I am wont to do when I realize I’ve lost my sanity, “we’re here to do a race.”

I marched up to the table, gave the guy my money, grabbed my number and quickly ran back to my car to pin my number on.

“Self,” I said, still grappling with some kind of cold-weather-onset neurosis, “you need to get warm from the inside out, not from the outside in.”

So I got out and jogged around the parking lot. I threw in a stride or two, but then I eased up to a short jog. And, you know, I didn’t feel all that cold anymore.

The start was an informal little affair. As the race director explained the course, one of the event guys came over and asked, “Does anyone have jumper cables?” Evidently, the follow car’s battery had died. So I volunteered my cables, popped my trunk and handed them off. Then, just as they finished jumping the truck, we lined up, the other guy said go and we all hit the start buttons on our watches.

A young cross-country running trio took to the front. I found out later, one of them is a post-high-school cross-country racer, another just took 23rd in the high school state championship and the last one isn’t even in junior high yet. Yikes—that kid’s going to be fast!

I just tried to keep them in sight as they tapped out a quick pace. I even contemplated hammering ahead to catch the third-placed kid, but that little fantasy faded as we rounded the corners on the course and he got away from me.

Finally, the course spilled out onto a long straightaway alongside a very busy road. A semi-trailer blew past me as I went up the only hill on course.

After a couple more turns, I found myself on the last section of the course, a small running path that winds around the perimeter of the park where we’d started. Because of the shadows, there were intermittent patches of snow all along that part of the course, adding a little cross-country element to the race, which was kind of fun and kind of discouraging.

As I wound through the last 1/4 of the park, I looked down at my watch and saw 19:00. Then I looked up at the finish line.

“You can do this,” I thought to myself. “C’mon, just do it and let’s get this done!”

So I gut-checked my way around the final curve. As I crossed, I looked down at my watch and saw it tick over 19:55. The girl with the clipboard said 19:56, but I wasn’t about to argue with her.

Oddly, there was no award ceremony at this event. That’s okay, though; I got what I wanted. The winner, the post-HS XC runner (who I believe has a college scholarship waiting for him somewhere) clocked a 17:20.

I was about to jump in my car and head home until I remembered they still had my jumper cables. So I hung around for the post-race raffle and watched a bunch of other folks get prizes.

I started chatting with an older guy there, and he told me he was mainly a cyclist.

“Really?” I said. “Me too. What do you race?”

“Have you ever heard of LOTOJA?” he said.

“Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “here we go.”

Listening to people talk about LOTOJA is almost like listening to a multi-level marketer try to talk you into buying a crate of expensive juice to stick in your garage. I explained it wasn’t for me, and he smiled with that look that says, “Well, it’s not for everybody.” Actually, he was pretty cordial about it, but it nonetheless reinforced for me that I don’t want to do the 206-mile yuppie race. It seems like the less interested I am, the more people want to tell me about it.

I, of course, explained my reasoning in detail: I’m a father of three children under the age of 6. It would be irresponsible of me to abandon my wife every Saturday so I can squeeze in that 6-hour century ride. He responded that he did most of his rides at 5 a.m. While I can appreciate that there are people working harder than I am toward their cycling prowess (and certainly he qualifies), I have to say that his youngest child probably isn’t waking him up in the middle of the night with teething issues these days either.

“Someday,” I told him, “my kids will be in school and independent, and things will be different.”

But it got me thinking about another issue I have with LOTOJA. I was reading the Slowtwitch.com forum last night, and I came across a thread entitled, “The problem with triathlon,” and when I got done talking with the LOTOJA guy, I started thinking one of those Slowtwitch comments could really apply to LOTOJA too. The problem with LOTOJA, the reasoning goes, is that it used to be guys with $3,000 bikes and $2,000 cars. Now, it’s guys with $5,000 bikes and $50,000 cars.

Now, in all fairness, my car costs more than my bike (though that’s debatable with the upgrades, depreciation, etc.). So I’m a guy putting my $1,000 bike into the backseat of my $2,000 car, but I’m doing races that cost $30—not $200. I guess what I’m saying is that the folks who are doing LOTOJA aren’t my crowd—at least not right now. And even if they became my crowd, I don’t know that I really just want to blend and be just like everyone else in the crowd.

No, I think I like my hill climbs much better, thank you very much. LOTOJA’s lacking something when it comes to coolness—it’s more like a dare 50-year-old men give each other. What’s cool about that? Not much.

Maybe I’ll get to that point someday, but right now, I really doubt that.

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