July 10, 2006

Photo Finish

As dawn arrived at camp on the day of the Great Race, I yelled into the big tent to wake the teenagers. Nocturnal creatures, they had not been sleeping for long. In fact my oldest son, Boy in Black, had said that the only way he could possibly be up in time for the race was if he stayed up all night.

"This is the stupidest idea our family has had yet," my daughter declared. "It’s vacation! Let's wake up at 6 a.m. and run six miles! WHAT KIND OF FAMILY DOES THAT?" She was smiling, though, and looking bright-eyed. Her brothers, on the other hand, stumbled about in slow motion like weird dead pirates, pulling off their black band t-shirts and pulling on their official periwinkle blue race t-shirts.

To warm everyone up, my niece opened the door of her car and cranked up the music. The runners danced wildly for a few minutes, some of them adding in a few stretching exercises. Many of the volunteers danced, too, in solidarity with the runners. The sun was already started to feel hot.

We’d made all the plans the evening before, even driving around to pound in mile markers. You would be surprised to see how many families in a rural area sit outside on a warm summer evening, all watching curiously as the pick-up truck filled with screaming teenagers and children went by. Dandelion Niece and Suburban Nephew had made medals for everyone who finished the race, but the medals were carefully hidden and kept secret until the day of the race.

"They look like Olympic medals," Dandelion Niece had confided in me.
"Is the first place medal made of real gold?" I asked.
She gave me a serious look. "It’s authentic foam."

The whole family was participating. We had eleven runners in all and nine volunteers who would help with the race details, plus four dogs who were likely to get in the way. Blond Brother-in-law, a runner sidelined by injuries, took charge of the volunteers. I’d given my spot on a relay team to my husband, whose plantar fascitis flared up to prevent him from running the full race. This move was less noble than it sounds, since I really don’t like running, preferring to drive around and take photos instead. Since the other five members of my family were running, I knew I could snag a t-shirt when they came through the wash.

Urban Sophisticate Sister, the experienced runner who had planned the race, told me she intended to run eight-minute miles, which would be a challenging but achievable pace for the rest of the family, most of whom are not runners. She predicted that my brother, the other runner in the family, would try to stay twenty paces ahead of her. “It’s the testosterone factor.”

She teased Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy, who both went running a few times in April and gave then gave it up as a boring sport, preferring to play Ultimate Frisbee with their friends instead. She wasn’t sure that playing frisbee was sufficient training for a 10K race. Boy in Black himself said he had no way of knowing how well he would do, but he did have a secret plan for the race, which he told me in the boat on the way home from an afternoon swim the day before. He was just going to stick with whoever the front runner was and save some energy for sprinting at the end. He had no chance of beating Urban Sophisticate at distance – she is a marathon runner – but his long legs give him a big advantage when it comes to sprinting.

Since our camp is on the river, the terrain would be inevitably difficult for the first half of the race – 3.1 miles uphill, leaving behind the marshes and shady woods and climbing up to the high farmland with cow pastures and cornfields. The Midpoint Volunteer Team (mainly Red-haired Sister, her two little kids, and my mother) parked a discreet distance from the white farmhouse that marked the turning point and got ready with cups of water for the runners. We tied balloons to a couple of lawn chairs to indicate to anyone who happened by with a shotgun (the owners of the land, for instance) that we had come in peace.

The race began with an official "Ready, Set, Go" and the runners were off. By the end of the first mile, they had spread out and were running in packs. Some cousins chose slower times just to keep pace with their favorite running partners. Drama Niece and Blonde Niece ran the first couple of miles together, using a debatable strategy of singing loudly as they went up the hills. Schoolteacher Niece and Shaggy Hair Boy stayed together, with her shouting encouragement as he attempted to run through stomach cramps. He’d been feeling poorly anyhow, and at the midpoint, he looked so green that my sister tried to convince him to drop out, but he refused, finishing the race a valiant fifth just behind Schoolteacher Niece.

The matching shirts that Urban Sophisticate had brought, plus the numbered running bibs that my brother had provided, helped make the runners look official as they moved along the country roads. As she had predicted, my sister ran eight-minute miles, keeping a steady pace, running comfortably. My brother stayed just ahead of her – and at his elbow, Boy in Black. During the last mile, my brother began picking up the pace – and so did Boy in Black. They did not stop to check for traffic as they crossed the highway near camp, and my sister claims she heard my brother say to his nephew, "If we cross now, we can lose her in the traffic."

As they came down the stretch, both running full speed toward the yellow tape that I had stretched between two trees, Boy in Black pulled ahead of my brother. But then one of my sister’s annoying dogs leapt into his path, giving my brother an advantage, and the two runners were even as they approached the finish line. With a final surge of energy, Boy in Black threw himself at the yellow tape, reaching just ahead of his uncle to grab it, diving ahead of him and rolling to the ground with the finish line wrapped around him. A close win.

As each runner came across the finish line, we cheered and clapped and took photos. My mother dumped water on runners who lay sprawled on the grass. Red-haired Niece, who crossed the line last, decided to do it in style by running backwards and pulling her shorts down so that she would break the yellow tape with her bare butt. Urban Sophisticate Sister took the traditional plunge off the dock but most of the kids just flopped facedown in the grass, unwilling to move even one more step.

The medal ceremony was held near the firepit, with Dandelion Niece presenting a medal to each person who completed the race. As Boy in Black, Brother, and Urban Sophisticate Sister, the top three runners, stood on the picnic bench that was serving as podium, wearing their foam medals proudly, we all sang the national anthem, some members of the crowd swaying back and forth. Boy in Black held a frisbee in his hand, in tribute to the sport that had served him well in training.

25 comments:

Autumn said...

I'm so glad it went well!! I'm impressed at Boy in Black's win.

ccw said...

Congratulations to Boy in Black on his win!

It sounds like your family had a very enjoyable time doing the run.

Peri said...

The race was an inspired idea. What a wonderful way to get everyone together and having fun. I would have loved to see what the locals thought when they saw you all running by.

Boy in Black is having one heck of a summer, isn't he?! That'll teach them to underestimate him. ;)

Her Grace said...

What a great story!

cloudscome said...

Well told! And congratulations to all!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Awsome, once again I want to join your family--- except for the running part... I think I could dump water on people with the best of them, though.

Scrivener said...

Wow, you even make running sound not so boring. I'd play ultimate frisbee over running any day.

Chip said...

love the frisbee symbolism! Sounds like you all had a blast!

Erin said...

I'm a new reader, directed here by Catherine's Newman's column about your serving fruit for dinner, but I am enjoying reading your work. And I'm completely envious of this fantastic vacation you are having. Camping to me has always meant smoky fires and lots of insects, but you make me want to give it another try!

Songbird said...

I'm afraid we couldn't get that many people to run six miles, but I enjoyed it all vicariously!

liz said...

Hooray for BiB! Such an exciting finish!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you wimped out.

jo(e) said...

Peri: Oh, the locals think we are nuts.

And I would say that so far, Boy in Black has had a heck of an eighteen years. Things always turn out well for him.

Anonymous: I never really was a serious contender in the race. Seven years ago, I injured my left leg, breaking it in two places and doing some ligament damage. The bones healed but the leg has not been the same. So running hard on pavement for six miles is really not a great option for me.

Erin: Hey, welcome. Always great to have new readers. We do have mosquitoes at camp but they don't come out until dusk ...

Linda (FM) said...

The anonymous comment was from me [blushing]. Trying to get used to not using the old Blogger profile and messed up. And, I was just giving you a hard time...the little emoticon wink I added didn't seem to make it on the comment either.

jo(e) said...

Linda: Oh, that's funny. I thought the anonymous comment was from a friend of mine who doesn't have a blog but who sometimes leaves anonymous comments and I almost said,"You idiot. You KNOW I have problems with my left leg ...."

Even before the leg injury, though, I was always a total wimp in the heat.

Deb said...

Your family sounds fantastic! What fun!!

OneTiredEma said...

Whenever I need some time "with" a big, tight-knit, fun family, I come here :-)
(I don't mean that to sound stalker-esque--it just goes back to being an only child of divorced parents for a really long time!)

jo(e), you never disappoint. Your time in the woods sounds like it was fantastic.

listmaker said...

What a great story. Congratulations to Boy in Black.

Silver Creek Mom said...

Very Cool, on such a hot day.

;)

suzanh said...

Fabulous.

Seriously.

I would want to go camping with your family. And I am no fan of the outdoors.

Marie said...

Wow, yeah, you made running sound interesting. And this from someone who thinks the only running that should be done is if something big and scary is chasing you. I was on the edge of the couch (with the laptop) hoping BiB would win!! Hurrah! Great stories, great writing, great family.

RageyOne said...

It sounds like you all had a great time! Much fun!

Rana said...

Y'all are insane, you know that, right?

But in a good way. *grin*

Miranda said...

I love your family camping stories. Since my own family does not care to spend time together, I come here to get ideas for activities to do with my own rapidly-growing-up children.

Repressed Librarian said...

Another great story--I was laughing out loud when I got to the part about Red-Haired Niece crossing the finish line!