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Run Backwards

Jay EllsasserJay Ellsasser has sent in a few of his articles for publication in the Your-Articles section.

The second is entitled Run Backwards.

Literally just a number in the colorful crowd standing out front of Barnstable High School, #451 shifts his feet nervously.

A voice over the megaphone, the crack of a starter’s pistol, and the colorful montage surges forward.

Jockeying for position among the other runners #451 breaks from the crowd out onto the sidewalk, pacing himself like it was a five-mile race instead of a half marathon or 13.1 miles.

Run Backwards6:20!….6:25!…6:30! Cries the timekeeper at the first mile.

Too much too soon. A rookie mistake. Time for damage control.

Mile 2 passes at a more reasonable 6:55 as #451 settles in for the long road ahead.

Damage control still in effect at the end of Mile 3 (7:04).

Holding steady at Mile 4 (7:05), the slowing trend continues.

Time to reign the pace back in. Mile 6 passes in 7 minutes flat. The body begins to relax, wrenched from its idle state less than 35 minutes earlier, finally warmed to the task and now operating at peak efficiency.

Mile 7 registers at 6:59, maximum goal pace.

Enter the unexpected in the form of blisters, an irritant but not a threat to the ultimate goal of finishing under 1:31:00.

Deep, comfortable breathing returns at Mile 8 along with renewed confidence, acting as an umbrella against the elements of cold, wind and rain.

At Mile 9 (6:50), however, the umbrella collapses and the legs go heavy. The emphasis shifts from physical to psychological. It’s all about what the mind will allow the body to do.

Focused uncomfortably on the miles ahead, unwilling and feeling unable to continue for four more miles at this pace, doubt crowds the mind of #451.

As if waking from a hypnotic state, he reassesses the situation, focusing on the mile at hand. The shame of giving up, the regret, the months of training helping to reinforce this newly found desire to continue.

But doubt seeps back in, trying to convince the mind that what must be done, simply can’t this time.

Regret butts back in again, arguing its case.

It’s a turnstile of emotions inside the runner’s head, doubt and self-defeat on one side, pride and determination on the other. Each race run is a quiver in the arsenal against doubt, a dose of confidence. Still, doubt lingers, always eager to re-state its case.

The blisters worsen, a welcome distraction from the mental tug of war going on inside.

Mile 10 passes in 6:55, the markers between miles seeming to stretch farther and farther apart.

Angry whitecaps dot Old Hyannis Harbor with a defunct lighthouse turned artist’s studio in the foreground. But Cape Cod’s unique charm is lost in the struggle to push on.

Now approaching Mile 11, despite continuing fatigue, the pace remains steady, the mental tug of war won for now. But on the horizon is the steepest hill on the course, a winding stretch of road which rises slowly before turning the corner to reveal a shorter and much steeper section. A cruel inclusion by the course designer, and a true test for the runners.

Cresting the hill, #451 eases into the downhill, waiting patiently for a second wind, tired but confident.

Miles 12 and 13 each pass in under 7 minutes despite muscle tightness from dehydration.
Soaked to the skin through three layers of clothing, spattered with mud, blisters and cramping evident, the adrenaline kicks in as #451 hits his fastest stride of the race, the clock ticking toward 1:31:00, the finish line coming into view.

Then the realization comes. It’s not so much about beating the clock, but rather turning the clock back. Back to when you were a kid, playing tired with friends late into the night, covered in mud on a field somewhere near home.

Youth recaptured.

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