Saturday, June 20, 2015

A decade under the influence

I've been wrestling with a difficult decision to make. Typically, my beach vacation with my in-laws
begins around the 4th of July. It may start before, but I've always run the Heritage Festival 5 miler in Fredericksburg on the 4th (sometimes the 3rd) and then driven down afterwards. Once, this resulted in a 10-hour drive due to holiday traffic, but usually I get on the road early enough after the race to arrive in a reasonably short amount of time.

This strange and seemingly selfish practice has been accepted by my family because they know how important the race is to me. I've run the race maybe every year since I was seven years old. The newspaper did a feature on my family when I was in high school because my dad had run the race every year since it was founded, and my siblings and I all ran it with him. It's just what we did on July 4-- run the race. 

Adding to the tradition, ever since I graduated college and started running hard year-round (as opposed to seasonally), I've done well in the race. For a full decade, I've been on the podium, with eight 2nd place finishes and two 3rd place finishes. The victory has been my white whale, and 90% of the time I've lost to someone who was better than me on that day. I've been chasing that victory for years, but it's only really been within my reach once. This year, it is not within my reach. I'm not selling myself short here, nor am I taking the easy way out. I just recognize that this is not going to be my year for three reasons.

The number one reason is that I'm not in shape. I've been running for the past six weeks or so, semi-
seriously, doing 1-2 workouts a week and a long run, but it almost feels like I've just been going through the motions. I tried to excite myself by running in the SPCA 5k in Fredericksburg two weeks ago, but that didn't do anything to help me mentally or physically. My workouts aren't going great, and my heart just isn't in it right now. I've got a million other things going on right now, and running isn't a priority. The focus that I maintained during the beginning of the year on Boston is difficult to replicate consistently, and recognizing that is important to maintain my sanity. Sure, there are a lot of other people out there who CAN and DO put their heart and soul into training year-round, but our situations are very different and that's not a choice I want to make right now.

The number two reason, and this one is the one that makes me seem like a wuss, is that I don't think I can beat the competition. "So line up anyway," you might say. That's what I usually do. I lost to Tim Young twice, Jason Lewis, and Will Christian. I'm certainly not afraid of competition. Those are just three guys that I know I'll probably NEVER beat in my life, no matter what. Everyone else that I've lost to, I've beaten on more than one occasion (if I've ever raced them again). Everyone except Skeeter Morris. I'd have to go back to college racing results to see if I ever beat Skeeter, but I don't think that I've ever come out on top. Skeeter won last year's race several months after getting 2nd place at the Marine Corps Marathon, running 2:22 on a challenging course. If I were in tremendous shape this year, I might be able to give Skeeter a tough time, but I'm not, and so I know that I can't. And he's returning to defend his title.

Reason number three is that a minimum 4-hour car ride from the beach to Fredericksburg on July 3 and the same trip back the next day after the race doesn't sound very appealing when I'm not in shape and don't have a decent shot to win.

So this year, for the first time that I can remember, I will not be racing in the July 4th Heritage
Festival 5 miler. Someone else will be able to collect that podium finish for the first time, and I won't have members of the Fredericksburg Host Lion's Club making fun of me for not winning as I collect my prize. The cash has always been good for buying gas on the way to the beach or stopping to get a bushel of crabs at the border station entering North Carolina, but I'll just do without, and spend the 4th with my wife and son. I know that I will regret this decision, but I think I'd regret either one. It's lose-lose. And this doesn't mean that I'm finished either. The white whale is still out there, and I'm going to keep chasing him.


  1. Bert, I didn't know you a blog! I like it.

    It's funny I actually ran this race (and won it) in 2000. I remember it being a fun race and I enjoyed the course. Anyway, I'm sure you will enjoy spending time with your family on the 4th and there is always next year! Good seeing you and Charlie out there this morning.

  2. You must've come over with your buddy Bill Palmer! Congratulations on running over 4 and a half minutes faster than me that day!


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