“Ready. Set. Go!” The gun sounds and I’m off, sprinting through downtown like a gazelle with a lion on its tail. My skinny bird legs are pumping like a steam engine as I weave my way through the other runners, working myself toward the clean air in the front.

It was the July 4th Fun Run but I wasn’t there for fun. I was there to win. Who cares that it was already 80 degrees outside with a thousand percent humidity? That would only serve to weed out the weaklings so I could be the alpha in this battle of the fittest. I’d add my Fun Run trophy next to my trophy for winning the B-singles tennis championship and taking third in the teen talent trumpet playing competition (admittedly there were only three who were in the contest).

Winning the race, I believed, was only a formality. After all, how hard could it be to run 3.2 two miles? I see old women and kids doing it all the time. Surely I, built like a Greek god, could run 5K and barely break a sweat while setting a new land speed record for the race which I was certain they’d soon rename the Duane Sherrill Fun Run.

Kicking it in a little more, I found myself up in the lead pack as we entered the second block of the race along Main Street. I was coming up on the race leader and was sure once I pulled ahead I would never look back. Then, quite surprisingly, something weird happened with 3.1 miles left. The leader that I was close enough to touch at one point started stretching his lead and the people that I’d just blown by suddenly began passing me back.

“What’s that?” I yelped in pain as I felt my eyes sting as more runners zipped around me. “Sweat? But I’ve still got three miles to go.”

It was at that point I realized sweat wasn’t the worst thing happening. There was also the whole “not being able to breathe issue” that was starting to creep up.

“What the …” I breathlessly mumbled to myself, realizing I had already blown up with 2.9 miles still to go as I made the first turn off of Main Street.

“But I trained so hard for this,” I protested as my body began to rebel even as kids and old ladies were leaving me in their dust. “Ouch. My ribs! Why does my side hurt? What’s my side have to do with it? I would later learn it’s not the best thing to chug a Dr. Pepper before competing in a foot race.

What had I missed? I was in such good shape. I play all kinds of sports and live in the weight room. “Ouch,” I squealed as I felt my hamstring pop.

Actually, let’s back up to the night before the race. You know how runners will regularly train for things like marathons and distance runs well in advance? Well, the night before marked my training period. Somehow I and my friends had gotten it in our heads that since we worked out and played basketball pretty regular, we should also be able to run as long and as fast as we’d like.

Therefore, we decided we’d all get up and run in the Fun Run but, to be on the safe side, we agreed to do a little run around the neighborhood the night before, you know, to warm up. Of course, none of my friends showed up for the Fun Run as they chose to stay in bed rather than get up at the crack of dawn.

The night before, lightly jogging with a cool breeze seemed easy. We just trotted along and chatted, slowing down to a walk along the way. I mean, I thought that was training enough.

However, as I gasped for air during the “Not So Fun Run”, I was realizing there’s a little bit more that goes into training for a 5K.

With sweat rolling off of me and my heart pounding like a bass drum, I grudgingly slowed to a walk to catch my breath as the novice runners passed me by. This was so humiliating. I continued trying; however, as I’d jog a while and then walk a while, that is, until I hit the Widowmaker, a large hill about half-way through the run. It was a sadistic climb, slowing me enough that the 5K walkers were catching up and passing me.

“Eye of the Tiger,” I mumbled as I forced myself into a trot on the return leg of the course. “You can’t come in last.”

As luck would have it, my friends who had “trained” with me the night before but chose to sleep in, were waiting on Main Street. It seems that while the Fun Run wasn’t worth getting up for, the downtown pancake breakfast they have in conjunction with the downtown celebration was enough to lure them from their beds.

Seeing them along the street, I summoned all I had left and did my best to sprint the final few yards. I hit the tape, just barely eclipsing the 30 minute mark but my final burst wasn’t fooling anyone since I just barely passed a 5K walker at the end.

“We thought you’d took a wrong turn,” one of my friends joked. “We kept looking for you in the front pack but you weren’t there. What happened? Did you fall down?”

Trying to catch my breath and not succumb to heat stroke, I gave my friends as steely gaze.

“And where were you?” I huffed, bent over with my hands on my knees. “I thought we were all doing this.”

One by one, each offered a cheap excuse for their absence as one of the other runners walked by me and gave me a slap on the backside. “Might want to try the kid’s 1K next year, Sherrill,” he laughed.

Not to be defeated, I continued entering the Fun Run each year after. And, I was able to chisel down my time each year as I actually did some training for the event. However, I never even sniffed a podium finish.

Nowadays, I still make sure to get up for the Fun Run 5K on the Fourth of July. Not for the run. I do it for the pancakes.

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