Monday, September 14, 2009

Had a Little Run-In

I was in the mountains this past weekend to do the Asheville Citizen Times Half Marathon and had an interesting adventure.

The course was different this year from year's past. The race organizers decided that the hardest half marathon in the state was not quite hard enough and so they decided to add a half dozen new hills to the course. It was while traversing up one of these hills that our story begins...

It was around mile 8 and I was completely focused on the task at hand. Half way up one of the larger new additions, I had my head down and was leaning slightly forward. This technique of 'falling-forward' is my biggest secret for toppling large hills (I guess having 5 foot long legs doesn't hurt either). I find that there is much art to climbing hills. Many whither at the mere sight of raised earth but I pride myself on focusing in and conquering the obstacle. Such was the case when I felt the earth slowly arch upward to the top. My speed was good. I was running around a 6:50/mile pace as i reached the top where I was momentarily interrupted by the mass of an above average sized man who had just walked directly in front of me.

While it is true I was looking generally down, I could still spot what was five to ten feet directly in front of me. So no one was more surprised than I when I suddenly saw a large mass invade my soon to be space. My pure momentum was too much to overcome and I plowed into this man at 9 or 10 mph. The blur was wearing a yellow vest indicating he was one of the many volunteers to help protect us from the dangers on the road. The event took me by such surprise, I immediately blurted out "JESUS CHR!!!" - I remember not finishing the sin due to years of Catholic orthodoxy. But, as it turns out, it was not Jesus Christ. A fact that would be made very clear in the moments to come.

It was over in an instant and before I knew it I was already 10 or 15 feet past the unfortunate barrier. It was at this time when i heard a completely unmistakable sound emanating from behind me - rage. I heard absolute and pure energy ignite behind me. Piecing it together, I replayed the events of the previous 10 seconds to try to understand fully what had happened. This thought was interrupted by a new noise - Foot steps.

Now you would think such a noise would be common. And in a lot of ways you would be correct. I mean, this was a race after all. I knew there to be several runners in my general vicinity. But these footsteps seemed different. Heavier and more labored. These were not the footsteps of a person on their 9th mile of a half marathon. These were the footsteps of someone on a short distance mission. Now let me be clear: I cannot validate that the man with whom I just shared a massive collision with was in fact running after me. I did not turn around to view the face of death nor stick around to find out for myself what (if anything) was taking place behind me. I moved on. To the future. I am not one to dwell. One most always look forward. After all, there were races to run. So on I did go. Running.

Down the hill I went. Turning potential energy into kinetic energy, i picked up speed as the earth curved downward beneath my feet. I have never been a big fan of going down hills. If you pass me going down and I pass you going up, I always win. That's a rule.

The bit of unpleasantness was a distant 20 seconds gone by. I had re-focused and was looking to find and pass the high school aged girl whom was currently (inexplicably) ahead of me in 7th place. This thought was replaced by the realization that there was a vehicle approaching at full speed directly behind me. Breaking all rules, I turned my head to assess the situation. Running in the middle of the road, I did all I could to get over to the right to avoid being run down. As i swerved right, the car, police lights flashing, swerved left. Our motion a high speed tango, carefully coordinated after years of planning in many high budget action films. After passing me, the flashing vehicle swerved directly in front of me. Out popped a man. A pudgy, red-faced man, about 5'10" and no less than 265 lbs. On the front of his yellow vest read 'Police'. He had one message for me and was not shy in delivering it: "GET OVER TO THE SIDE NOW!"

To say the man in front of me was upset would be completely inaccurate. His mood, if i could characterize it, would be much closer to murderous rage. This truly was a kind of anger that I had never experienced before in my life. As I ran closer to him a thought popped into my head. An awful, wonderful little idea - 'Keep Going!' I knew full well it would be illegal to disobey a legal order given by a police officer (whom this man apparently was). But every runner has the fantasy that they, if need be, could outrun someone if they were up against it. A burglar, a thug, a cop? I know I have. And I always get away in that day dream. But the thought of checking the 'Convicted of a Crime' box and worse explaining that i was convicted of "collide and run while participating in a fun run" was a bit much for me to accept. I stopped and obeyed the order of the red faced, pudgy hulk in front of me.

He looked right at me (disgusted) and made a motion to the car. I honestly was just about to put my hands on his car, 100% certain that he would cuff me. Instead the man started in with what, in a normal situation, would seem like very relevant questions. However given the current context bordered on the absurd.

Officer: Did you not see me?
What I thought: Did you not see ME?
What I said: I had my head down going up the hill. I never saw you. And i certainly did not know you were a police officer.

Officer: Did you not see this? (pointing to the front of the vest saying 'Police', his rage not diminished at all)
What I said: You had your back to me. It was all a blur [laughing at this point]

Officer: You just KEPT ON GOING!
What i said: It's a race. [I then looked down at my watch]

Officer: We are out here protecting you and this is how you repay us?
What I thought: You almost killed me twice
What i said: [No longer piss my pants afraid of the red faced member of Asheville's finest nor the gun he had full access to] I'm sorry, I never meant to run into you.

All told he yelled at me for more than a full minute. Finally, he looked at my race number and told me to "Get out of here". His thoughts transparent. 'I've got your number buddy'. With a thankful smile, I continued on my way. No longer falling forward, I returned to turning potential energy into kinetic energy.