Charles Agar – Self vs. Self on the Fraser River Trail
Grand County, Colorado
At age 37, Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong is just a year younger than I am, but for some reason TV announcers like to stress how the über-athlete is a washed-up relic defying the laws of nature by riding so well at his “advanced age.”
That’s a lousy thing to hear while lying on the couch chomping on a novelty ice cream treat and watching the tour.
I’m not delusional. I know I’ve long blown my chance at a career in competitive cycling much less the NFL, downhill ski racing or cage fighting (all that’s left for a guy my age is maybe NASCAR or pro golf). But the shame taste in that Klondike bar had more to do with comparing myself to old Lance, really, and any time spent comparing is sure to foul things up.
There’s always someone faster, smarter, wealthier or better at something (and someone slower, dumber and clumsier too), and nowhere did I learn my place in the comfortable middle of it all than during the recent Rendezvous Run for Independence on the Fourth of July.
I’ve only just started running again after giving it up the last day of soccer season my senior year in high school some 20 years ago. On a whim I signed up for a triathlon scheduled for September (it’s 27 miles biking, five miles in a kayak, six miles running) and recently strapped on the old sneaks to see if I still have it.
Finishing the 5-mile run from Winter Park Resort to Fraser was my first training goal, and at the starting line on Saturday I was happy to stumble upon a few friends in the crowd – Stephanie and Chris. The three of us ran in a pack of hundreds the first few shaded miles along the Fraser River to the town of Winter Park, pacing downhill in a mass of humanity – all shapes and sizes.
Then the trail emerged from the woods and into the bright sun where I found a good stride, running quickly with even breath for a mile or so before I hit “the wall” if that’s possible in a 5-mile race.
By the time I hit the flat stretch between Winter Park and Fraser, I was running on inspiration alone and even that was wearing thin. But I pushed it to the finish like I was running to the sound of “Chariots of Fire” music along a beach somewhere – head back, chest heaving and snot flying. Not a pretty picture.
At 43 minutes, 50 seconds (not counting a traffic stop in the center of town and the grocery store line to have bibs scanned at the finish line), I was 13th in a field of 30 men age 30 to 39. I’d have fared worse in a somehow tougher 40-and-over category and would have won in the 70-plus class.
But the race was about getting to the finish line, not getting ahead of anyone. If it were, I might have been frustrated at running those last few hundred yards with everyone from elementary school kids to housewives and plucky pensioners. Instead, I felt like I was just part of the flow, not better or worse, just running.
I’m learning to compare myself with myself, not with the likes of Lance Armstrong. In fact, he might be taller, wealthier, a seven-time Tour de France winner and an inspiration to millions, but I’ve got something he’ll never have – plenty of room for improvement.
– When Charles Agar runs past barking dogs while training in Fraser, he hears people cheering him to the finish line. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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