Keep Rolling

“This is why I can’t have nice things.” That would be my slogan. Subway eats fresh. Hallmark cares enough to send the very best. And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. But I? I can’t have nice things. In fact, it’s so bad, when I’m around, sometimes other people can’t have nice things. Like their cars. 

I swear it was unintentional. I was at Starbucks, visiting with a friend. I got my coffee and sat down. An hour later, an exasperated man began accosting fellow patrons. “Have you seen my car keys?” he accused each person in turn. He confronted the baristas and waylaid businessmen and assailed ladies trying to order lattes after their tennis lessons. “My keys! Has anyone seen a set of keys?” I felt sorry for the guy, but he was belligerent and very unpleasant. After another half hour of histrionics, he must have called a cab or a family member to pick him up, because he stormed out the door and never came back. My friend and I continued talking and didn’t give the incident another thought. Finally, our visit came to an end, and I pulled my keys out of my purse. 

Only they weren’t my keys. 

“Oh, my gosh!” my friend exclaimed. “You totally stole that guy’s keys!” 

“I… I… don’t know how that happened! I swear… I must have accidentally grabbed his keys when I was putting cream in my coffee…” 

“Do you have your keys?” 

I reached my hand back into my purse. Yep. There they were. I had arrived at Starbucks with one set of keys and was about to leave with two. 

“How do you take someone’s keys without knowing it? 

“I don’t know…” 

I walked up to the baristas, incriminating evidence in hand. 

“Umm… You know that guy who couldn’t find his keys? Yeah, so…” I held them up above the counter. “I don’t know how they got in my purse.” 

“You had his keys?” They started laughing. “It’s okay. He was jerk anyway.” 

I don’t always steal keys, but when I do, I steal them from jerks. 

I don’t think I’m especially clumsy or a magnet for mishaps (or so I tell myself). It’s really just the inventiveness and timing of the mishaps more than anything else. I’ve had a squirrel poop on my face during a trail run. (Yes. It was an incredible bullseye.) I’ve been inadvertently tackled by a spectator during a race. And I’ve lost several packets of GU in the liner of my shorts and had to “rescue” them while standing on the side of McCausland Avenue. During rush hour. Heck, just a few days ago I gave myself a black eye… with a hairdryer.    

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m very resourceful when it comes to bloopers. 

The Frostbite Series half marathon a few weeks ago was no exception. The comedy of errors began even before I arrived at Forest Park. My stomach had been upset all morning, and I opted to postpone breakfast until after the race, just to be on the safe side. It’s never great to head into a half marathon on an empty stomach, but I figured my stomach would end up empty one way or another, and I’d rather it be on my terms. 

Queasy but not discouraged, I climbed into my car and headed east. I was on I-44 all of ten minutes before I felt a warm drip on my upper lip. 

“Whaa…?” I wiped my mouth and looked at my hand. “Oh, man…” I flipped down the sun visor and looked in the mirror. I had a bloody nose, and I had just smeared the proof all over the lower half of my face. 

With one hand on the steering wheel and the other reaching across the passenger seat, I popped open the glove compartment. It was empty. 

“Doh!” I forgot I had used the last tissue a few days before and had failed to restock my supply. My gazed shifted to the floor of my car, where there is usually a department store’s worth of sundry items. It was barren. Guess who had cleaned out her car the day before? 

I continued driving down I-44 with my finger shoved up my nose, a temporary dam until I could find something more practical. I had nothing except a long sleeve tech shirt. The temperature was dropping steadily, and I had grabbed the shirt as backup, just in case. I wiped off my bloodied hand and held the shirt against my face for the remainder of the drive. I won’t be using this anyway… I reasoned. I never race in long sleeves. 

Forty-five minutes later, after freezing my buns off during my warm-up, I was wearing a Nike long sleeve shirt with bloodstains all over it. 

The good news is the shirt was navy blue, so from a distance it appeared as though I was merely sweating profusely from my collarbone. I had changed shirts while I was waiting in line to use the bathroom. The line was long, and I wasn’t confident I’d make it to an open stall before the race began. I wanted to be ready to bolt, just in case. Off went the singlet. On went the bloody shirt. Back on went the singlet. And on went my bib number, one safety pin at a time. I was surprised and relieved (no pun intended) to get through the line with several minutes to spare. I waltzed into the stall, locked the door, and in one fell swoop ripped a hole in every piece of apparel I was wearing. 

You see, in my haste, I had unknowingly pinned the bottom left corner of my bib number right through my singlet and shorts. The result was that when the shorts went down, I nearly strangled myself. 

Finally, I reemerged from the bathroom stall, tattered but ready to race. Ready to race, that is, until I stepped outside and remembered Mother Nature was throwing 30-mph sustained winds across the two-loop course. 

The hits just kept on coming, folks. 

Someone once told me that the golden rule for cameramen is, “Always keep rolling.” I feel like this is solid advice for runners, too. After all, how we want a race to go and how the race actually goes are two entirely different things. 

I am grateful for the chaos leading up to the Frostbite half marathon. The race proved to be a valuable exercise in “Suck it up, buttercup.” Wind happens. Noses bleed. Shirts rip. So what? Get over it. Most of the things we worry about really aren’t that big of a deal. Mishaps are simply practice for keeping our cool. And the more mishaps we encounter, the more adept we become at handling them. 

So, roll. Roll up your sleeves. Roll with the punches. Roll down the river. Roll, roll, roll your boat. (Nope. Scratch that. Row. Row your boat.) Whatever you do, keep rolling. You—and your race—will be just fine. 

And if your keys every mysteriously disappear, well, you know who to call.

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious RunnerHer second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Storywill be released in 2014.

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