Signing up to do our first race was LaDonna's idea. We found one: The Rochester Women's Track Club Four-Mile Run--two laps around Silver Lake. LaDonna was pumped. I was dubious. We hadn't been running for all that long, and I still sucked air after two blocks.
The day of the race it was 96-degrees with drenching humidity. I felt a little sick when we pulled up to the race site. There were women milling around like race horses at the starting block. They looked like real runners, hard-bodied and wearing color-coordinated spandex and running shoes. We were wearing our husbands' gym shorts, baggy t-shirts and cross-trainers.
We stood in line to check in and get our race numbers and then joined the others to stretch. I didn't know too many stretches so I just did a few neck rolls. An older woman was stretching her leg above her shoulder. The front of her t-shirt read 86-year-old bungee jumper. Her name was Ethel and she was now 87. I hoped that I could have her legs when I was her age. Heck, I wished I had her legs now.
Over the megaphone it was announced that it was time to begin. We walked up a short hill to the starting line. I saw there were a few men in the group. Must be husbands seeing their wives off. But then I noticed an outline of a bra under one of the husband's t-shirts. Oh, crap. They weren't husbands; they were women racers. I started to panic--we should have known. This was a track club, for crying out loud. These were elite runners. We were in serious trouble.
I counted off each step with This...Was...A...Big...Mistake. Don't...Ever...Listen...To...LaDonna...Again. Where was she anyway? I glanced back. She was keeping stride with Ethel. LaDonna didn't look so good. The other contenders started giving advice as they passed us. "Breathe in through your nose; out through your mouth. Drink at the next station. Only one more time around the lake." Are you kidding--another lap? I…Am…Going…To…Die…Today.
LaDonna was whimpering halfway into the second loop of the lake. "Jacci, I...gasp...can't make...gasp...it. I'm not kidding. I'm going to have to...gasp...quit.." I gasped back, "Oh, no you don't. You got me into this; you're finishing it. Besides, you don't have a choice. You still have to get around the lake to the van."
We shuffled side by side. Ethel was gaining on us at the last turn. Racers were at the finish line waiting for the three of us and cheering us on. "Come on, finish strong. You're almost there!" We pushed hard, nosing out Ethel at the end. LaDonna collapsed on the curb, still whimpering. I started laughing uncontrollably. Delirium, I guess.
We had finished the race. And, we weren't last. I placed 43, LaDonna 44, and Ethel finished strong in 45th place. Since Ethel was the only one in her age category--80 and above--she got a trophy. LaDonna and I received cool purple participation t-shirts, proving that we were real runners.
Sadly, LaDonna moved away that summer. I did a few more races without her--a 5K and a 10K. I missed her, but Ethel was at each one. I talked LaDonna into doing a 10K in Wyoming, her new home state. She had a hard time adjusting to the high altitude. She told me the race was done and they were pulling up the stakes before she finished. But she made it back in time to hear the winners announced. Since she was the only woman in her age category, she went home with a nifty first-place trophy.