Race day was made for stories. Good stories. Victorious stories. Crazy stories. Hilarious stories. Stories that make you laugh. Stories that make you cry. Stories that you tell over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter if you’re running the race or volunteering at an aid station. It doesn’t matter if you’re a spectator cheering someone on or an official with a lanyard and walkie-talkie. You will have a story. Because race day was made for stories.
And nothing ever goes wrong. It simply adds to the plot. Remember that.
Did I ever tell you about the time Jake (a.k.a. Mr. Speedy Pants) fell out of the lead vehicle during the GO! St. Louis Marathon? No? Well, then.
He was part of a three-person team manning the lead vehicle for the marathon in downtown St. Louis. Jake was in charge of navigational duties and the race clock secured to the back of the car. With David at the wheel and Kathleen, a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in the passenger seat, the trio drove the official race car down the course, staying just ahead of the lead runner.
And then, somewhere between mile 16 and mile 18, Jake had to pee.
There was still a solid 45 minutes left in the race. He knew he wouldn’t make it. But he was in the lead vehicle, and several elite runners were right behind them. A pit stop wasn’t an option. In a stroke of genius, he concocted a brilliant pee-plan.
Because he had timed the 5K the day before, he knew there were porta-johns in Forest Park, just in front of the Visitor’s Center. The lead vehicle was going approximately 12 miles-per-hour. At a specific point on Lindell, David would slow down just enough for Jake to jump out of the convertible and cut across to the History Museum and, ideally, to the porta-johns. He would cut the tangent while the lead runner took a longer route to the same point. If he sprinted, he could get to the porta-johns, relieve himself, and manage a run-and-jump entry back into the lead vehicle just as it passed the Visitor’s Center. It would work, he told David. He’d be back in two minutes, he told David.
It was, in retrospect, a terrible idea.
Just as the lead vehicle hit the appointed location on Lindell, Jake leapt off the back the convertible. This was the last part of the plan that went according to plan.
As it turned out, he misjudged just how fast 12 miles-per-hour is. The moment his toes touched the ground, he realized his feet would be unable to keep up with the momentum of the rest of his body.
It was a spectacular fall. As he pitched headfirst to the pavement, he tucked his shoulders and barrel rolled down Lindell, much to the horror of the hundreds of spectators who had assembled at the corner of the History Museum and disaster.
“Oooooh!” the crowd gasped in unison as he hit the ground. Forget the lead runner hammering a 5:15 pace. Some guy had just thrown his body out of a car and was rolling down Lindell.
But in true Jake (read: awesome) form, the moment his unfortunate tumble became manageable, he popped up and began all-out sprinting toward the porta-johns.
“Ahhhhh!” the crowd cheered in delight and admiration.
He dove into the porta-johns. And even though he went as quickly as possible (pun intended), by the time he burst back into the sunlight, ready to run and leap into the convertible, David was already a solid 200 yards past him.
It turns out Jake also misjudged just how fast the first place guy was running.
Jake immediately began sprinting in the opposite direction, hoping to cut the tangent again and catch the lead vehicle before it left Forest Park. Meanwhile, Kathleen (from the Post-Dispatch), reported Jake’s progress to David, who was trying to watch the extravaganza unfold in the rearview mirror—all while driving the car and staying one step ahead of the lead runner.
“He’s gaining! He’s gaining!” she cried. “He’s gaining—” a pause—“He’s… fading. He’s... fading. And he stopped.”
David waved the lead runner on.
“We’ll catch up to you in a few minutes!” he yelled before pulling over to wait for Jake.
Finally, Jake fell into the back of the convertible. (Trying to run a sub-5-minute pace in jeans will take it out of you.)
“Worst. Idea. Ever,” he said.
David laughed for four straight miles, and the incident cemented itself as one of the finest gems in FLEET FEET lore.
As runners, we are constantly constructing tales of adventure and bedlam. For all of our meticulous calculations and detail, for all of the tedium of pacing and speedwork and recovery and nutrition, our sport is fundamentally unpredictable. It is fundamentally unexpected. It is imperfect and difficult and frustrating and wonderful. Because running is fundamentally human.
And humans are funny that way.
When it comes to race day, I’m a worrier. Not only doing I stress out about normal runner issues, but I worry about things the average runner would never imagine. I am a world champion at the “What If” game. I can flood any racecourse with “What If” questions. And do you know where all that worrying gets me?
Nowhere, that’s where.
So what if things don’t go exactly as planned. Running is real life, and life is unexpected. Life is an adventure. And adventures are fun. Adventures are what make a story, a story. The best stories are those that surprise us. The best stories are those that don’t follow the program. After all, every story has to have some kind of conflict and resolution. Otherwise it’s not a story at all.
Yes, you have a race day plan. Yes, you should stick to it. And, no, you shouldn’t try anything new on race day. (“A roast beef and sauerkraut sandwich 30 minutes before the race? I’m in!”) But you also shouldn’t worry about what may or may not deviate from the blueprints. Unexpected turns are par for the course. They’re what separate your race day from everyone else’s. Whether it’s a forgotten supply of GU, a too-quick first mile, inclement weather, or a parking spot that refuses to be located in a timely manner, take each little aberration in stride. Barrel roll if you have to. And no matter what, in true Mr. Speedy Pants form, just keep on running.
Because on race day, nothing ever goes wrong. It just adds to the story.
Have fun and good luck to everyone running Rock ‘n’ Roll this weekend!
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014.