MIKE TAYLOR: In the world of 5K athletics, there are cheetahs, wounded gazelles, and then me; the manatee

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 11:37 am on Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mike Taylor

I was supposed to run a 5k race this past Sunday. Well, not actually the 5k part, and not actually run. I signed up to participate in the one mile walk. After a long winter of beer and burritos even that seemed daunting, but I was determined to do my part to help raise money for the Education Foundation of Greenville.

My best turned out to be showing up late and missing the run entirely. No, that’s not entirely true; I showed up with 20 minutes to spare, but spent that whole time looking around for the sign-in booth. By the time the starter’s pistol fired, I still hadn’t found it.

The Foundation still got my money, so I don’t have to feel guilty about it. I’m a little bummed over missing the after-party with friends, but I’ll live.

I still had a good time people watching. People watching is one of my favorite sports. If I had my way, Topps would sell bubble gum trading cards with regular people on them; you know — “One-tooth Guy from the County Fair”, “Fat Lady with Red Hair and Seven Kids Under Age Five”, “ZZ Top Beard Guy” — that sort of thing.

Strolling through the surprisingly large crowd of runners, joggers and walkers, I felt like anthropologist Jane Goodall, stealthily skirting the perimeter of a chimp-filled clearing, observing behavior, making mental notes on primate mores. Except in my opinion, humans make for far more interesting specimens than do chimpanzees. Unlike chimps, we not only talk, we usually refrain from throwing feces at each other (with the possible exception of politicians during election years).

And while all chimps look alike (at least to me and I hope that doesn’t make me a species-ist) people are wildly diverse in both appearance and behavior. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the starting line of a 5k run. Observing these differences was made easier by the fact that event organizers had already segregated participants into their component groups. As I walked among them, I began to realize the group to which I had previously assigned myself — the one-mile walkers — was never going to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, no, not even the Swimsuit Issue. In fact, especially not the Swimsuit Issue.
Leading the pack were the serious runners, those who planned to pour 100 percent of their considerable physical prowess into out-running every other runner in attendance. These folks were the amped-up cheetahs of the pack; lean, mean running machines, taut muscle flexing sinuously beneath lightweight running shorts and high-tech T-shirts designed to wick away moisture. Most of them sported sneakers that cost more than my car.

There was a time, long ago, when I might have fit in with this group. Not anymore. Now I felt like an old manatee waddling among young greyhounds.

Next in line were the 5k runners who planned to trot the whole course but didn’t really give a hoot where they placed. These were the soccer moms who had recently taken up jogging to lose those extra winter pounds before the arrival of swimsuit season, the ex-high school jocks working a desk job for the past ten years who figured they still had one race left in them, the old guys with one too many Clint Eastwood movies under their belts and the feeling they had something to prove.

Five years ago, this would have been my crowd.

Not anymore. My crowd was farther back from the starting line. Much farther. But we’ll get to them soon enough.

Next up were the walkers who planned to do the whole 5k course. Though there were still a few nice sneakers and water-wicking T-shirts in evidence, these folks were for the most part dressed in comfortable street clothes.

They looked reasonably fit, though lacking the muscular definition of runners closer to the starting line. A few were having second thoughts about tackling the whole course, but on the whole they appeared to be a confident, comfortable lot, the neighborly sort who would offer you a frosty front porch beer on a warm summer’s evening. I felt at home in their company.

But their company, alas, was not my own. My place was in the back of the pack, with the one-mile walkers. With a few exceptions, this group was comprised of the very young, the moms tending the young, and those — like myself — who are a little older and going soft around the edges. If we were gazelles, the lions would have been trying to separate us from the rest of the pack.

These, I realized, were my people. In the past four decades, I’ve somehow gone from sleek cheetah to limping gazelle.

But that’s OK. I’ve seen Disney movies. I know about the circle of life and I’m comfortable with my place in it. I don’t have to be the fastest or the fittest; all I’ve got to do is make sure there’s at least one limping gazelle behind me. Keeping the lions company.

Mike Taylor’s book, Looking at the Pint Half Full, is available in paperback from mtrealitycheck.blogspot.com or in eBook format from Amazon.com. Email Taylor at mtaylor325@gmail.com.

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