I still don’t know how I got this invitation. I mean my buddies didn’t and we run all the races together. But the invitation says this race is only for invited runners. Obvious they are not looking for the elite. Hahaha
When I got the invitation I called Dan, a friend I train with.
“Dan. Hey, I just got this invitation to run a 10K but it doesn’t really say where. You get one?”
“No. Did you get it today?”
“Yeah. The race is Sunday.”
“Seriously? They send you an invite five days before the race? You gonna go?”
“I don’t know. It says all expenses paid. I’d have to catch a bus Saturday afternoon and it takes you to the race. Odd, huh?”
“You think? You ask Walt if he got one yet?”
“Not yet. I’ll give him a call. I don’t really want to go alone. It wouldn’t be as fun.”
“What else does it say?”
“I haven’t read it all yet. There’s a pack of information. I wanted to see if you got one and whether you was going.”
“Maybe I’ll get mine tomorrow.”
“OK. Talk to you later. I’m gonna give Walt a call.”
Walt wasn’t in so I left him a message, then started reading the rest of the information. They made it sound really cool. Of course you got the standard t-shirt. Other than one race we ran a few years ago, where they passed out a stupid hat, there’s always a shirt. It’s a must. You wear it as a badge of honor or something.
I see there is a steak dinner the night before the race. Oh man. There’s also a party.. Why would I want to go to a party if I didn’t know anyone? Oh wait. This footnote at the end of the letter. It says there will be lots of single women would be there. Now that’s what I call an enticement.
Let’s see. It says the winner will receive a –. I don’t need to know that. I’m not gonna win anyway so why get myself upset over what the lucky winner is gonna get? I wish I could win one of these races someday.
Right. I run them for the competition and the fun of it all. Sure, it’d be nice to sometime win but it wasn’t going to happen in this lifetime.
The shower felt good. I’ll see if anyone called. There’s a message from Walt.
“Hey Tony. I never got an invitation. If I get one tomorrow I’ll give you a call.”
Looks like unless they got theirs tomorrow, I’ll have to go myself. It must have been a random drawing or something. I don’t know if I really want to go without the guys.
“You seriously considering going?” asked Dan.
I have to leave tomorrow so we’re having this little get together.
“Yeah. I might as well. I mean single girls at the party. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Dude,” said Dan. “You ever read once in any of the race brochures where it says there will be plenty of single girls at a party? I mean what’s that all about? Makes it sound like they’re bringing in hookers or something.”
“I can live with that. You don’t think that’s gonna discourage me, do you?”
“C’mon man. You get on a bus taking you to an unknown place to run a race? That doesn’t jingle any of your warning bells?”
I have to think about that one.
“I’ll ask the bus driver when I get on.”
“Oh, there you go. Great plan. Pack up for a trip to go to you don’t know where but the bus driver can enlighten you.”
They both started to laugh but I was too busy wondering if I was making the right choice. The whole thing was pretty screwy.
“Screw you guys. I’m going.”
“Can you tell me where we’re going?”
The driver just gives me a grunt. I should turn around right now. There are lots of other confused looks on the bus. I guess I can always get off later. Just need to find an empty seat.
“How you doin? Name’s Bob Slinger.”
“Do you have any idea where we’re heading?”
“I don’t have a clue,” he says as he seems to be checking me out. “I understand this is a special race for elite runners.”
If I had a drink I’d spit it all over myself. Elite runners? No wonder he’s looking at me the way he is.
“Great. They musta fucked up and sent me a letter by mistake.”
Bradley starts laughing and others in nearby seats start laughing as well. Did I say that out loud?
The room at the hotel is terrific with a big screen TV and all. I think I’ll just settle down and relax for awhile. . . . Now who would be knocking on my door.
“Are you Bob Slinger?”
“I hope you’re enjoying your stay. You can either eat downstairs or order room service but don’t forget about the party at 8.”
“I’ll be there.”
“We need all runners to sign this race release. Your information is already on it and all I need is a signature.”
Looking at the paper, this is a heck of a lot more than your standard release form. Normally you agree the race host is not responsible for anything that happens to you. You know, like you die or something. But there were more papers attached.”
“Why so many papers? What am I signing?”
“The standard form but our company needs to protect itself. You understand.”
“I suppose but I need to read it.”
“Sure. Go right ahead. I’ll wait. Basically you’re signing your soul to the devil.”
I must have a startled look as he starts laughing.
“Seriously. Take your time. I can come back later if you want but forms all need to be turned in within the next hour.”
The fine print is just that, fine print. No way I’ll be able to read it anyway since I forgot my reading glasses.
“Just give me a pen. Where do I sign?”
He left happy so I think I’ll just watch some TV. It’s time to relax for awhile.
Well the race is about to begin. There are quite a few runners here and a nice size audience. I settle in right around the middle of the pack. The elite runners are at the front, although according to Bradley, everyone here is an elite runner. I suppose I could just head to the back but what the hell. I’ll let runners pass me.
Too bad the party last night wasn’t Friday night. I would have had more fun if the race wasn’t the next day. It was hard to believe some of the women who hit on me. That never happened before. The girl who went back to the room with me . . . . . wow. The guys will never believe it.
“Runners, get in position.”
Well, it’s time. Best I can hope for is that I don’t embarrass myself too much.
Nice start. Guy already steps on my foot. Dork.
OK. I want to hit the three mile mark around twenty-four minutes so I hit my goal of fifty minutes. Maybe this will be the day I break the fifty minute mark but my last 10K was fifty ywo minutes and twenty seconds. That’s a lot of time to make up.
Mile one at eight minutes exactly. Not bad. Usually I start off a little slower and then pick it up but I’ll take it. I feel pretty good. I think ole Bradley was wrong though. There are quite a few runners behind me. Elite runners would already be well ahead.
The spectators seem kind of strange. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s almost like they are movie extras. They all cheer the same and the way they stand and clap is like they were doing it in cadence. Nah. Must be me.
Mile two coming up. That’s not bad. Sixteen minutes and five seconds. Lost a little time but I can make that up. I’ve sure passed a lot of runners so far. I think this is the fastest I’ve hit the two mile mark.
I’m getting a little tired. Maybe I started too fast with all this excitement. Let me get my mind off this race. I remember the last race we did. A 10K race. We were joking about it as we drank our normal after the race beer. Dan was telling us about the runner in front of him who barfed before the first turn. That’s funny.
It almost seems like yesterday, it’s so vivid.
“I was cheering you on Bob, when that old geezer passed you near the end,” said Dan. “You couldn’t kick it up a notch and pass him?”
They were all laughing now.
“I didn’t notice him. I was getting tired. Was thinking about a movie I watched the other day.”
“Maybe someday you need to just concentrate on your running. Stop the daydreaming.”
Dan was right. The running magazines tell you to listen to your body while you run. Wait. My minds wandering now. Damn. But why does that evening seem so vivid?
Wow, Mile four already. I guess I missed a mile somewhere. Thirty-three minutes. I need to pick it up.
What the . . . . . I see the lead car. How can that be? There are only five runners ahead of me. Ha ha ha ha. Look at me. Wait a minute. My time is OK for me but not for being near the lead. What’d they do? Bring in a bunch of suck ass runners to make fun of us.
“I’d sure like to know what it’s like winning a race,” I said. “Can you imagine? Following the lead car and being in front of the pack. Would that be a blast or what?”
“C’mon man,” said Walt. “You know that ain’t never gonna happen to any of us. Don’t torture yourself.”
Mile five and I’m in second place! That looks like, yeah, it’s Bradley. What is going on here?
“I can dream can’t I? I mean I’d almost give anything to win a race and have that experience.”
“Really? I mean it would be cool but I can think of lots better things to wish for.”
“Really Walt. Would that be great or what. I mean, I think I’d sell my soul to the devil just to be able to win one race.”
Oh shit. Did I really say that then? What the fuck was I thinking? I mean I said it on the spur of the moment. I didn’t mean anything by it. Wait a minute. That guy in the hotel room said I was selling my soul to the devil. I thought it was a joke. This can’t be real.
I’m gonna slow down. What the . . . . c’mon feet. Slow down. Why can’t I slow down? I seem to be going faster. I don’t want to win this race, I mean just in case my soul’s in jeopardy..
I’ll tell Bradley to pick up the pace when I get beside him.
“Bradley,” I shouldn’t be running beside you.”.
I can see the finish line. It must only be about five hundred yards or so and is approaching quickly.
“Bradley, pick it up. Sprint man. You gotta win this race.”
“What the hell you think I’ve been trying to do you jerk off. I feel like I’m running in mud. I mean look at the fucking time. How the hell am I even in the lead?”
“You gotta pick it up man.”
The finish line is getting closer and closer. Why can’t I stop? I have to stop. I can’t do this. I can’t.
“It’s important Bradley. Don’t drop behind me. Pick it up.”
“You mocking me asshole? Screw you. You might win this thing but let me tell you something, you didn’t earn it. They must have drugged us or something last night.”
“No. No. No. You people stop cheering. I’m not gonna win this thing. I’m not.”
One last chance to stop before I break the ribbon. Damn!
People are cheering and slapping me on the back as I break the ribbon and win the race. Bradley looks pissed. There are reporters coming from out of the woodwork to speak to me.
“Get that microphone out of my face. I didn’t earn this win.”
“You seemed to come from out of nowhere,” said the reporter. “That was quite a race. Even though it’s the slowest race I’ve ever watched.”
“Screw you. Screw all of you. Why are you still clapping and cheering. Can’t you hear me. Screw you!”
I’m on the top podium, between the second and third place winners. A guy is shaking their hand and hanging a medal around their necks. I’m next. What was the first place prize?
He is approaching me.
“Congratulations son. You ran a great race. Forty-nice minutes and fifty-nine seconds.”
A great race? Yeah, it would have been a great time for me. I finally break the fifty minute mark. But that’s certainly not a 10K winning time. Are you serious?
“Here’s your medal.”
I’m trying to not allow him to put it around my neck but I can’t stop him.
“And since you are our first place winner, you win the trip.”
“Just let me go home.”
His look is changing right before my eyes. His eyes are charcoal black and seem to be suddenly settling back into two deep sockets. His nose is becoming pointy or crinky or something. His fingernails are changing into claws and his entire body is suddenly turning a deep red. There are horns jutting out the top of his head.
“Just let me go home. Please. I didn’t mean what I said.”
I’m crying and I never cry.
“You have won our trip. You, young man, will find yourself traveling deep within the earth’s surface. You are the winner of a trip to hell.”
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”