Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Utica Boilermaker

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; 
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout..."

-Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Is there joy in Mudville today?  That could be the question that haunts the halls of legends and heroes for decades to come in running lore across the land.  It's no coincidence that the host city of the famous Boilermaker is also nicknamed "The City that God forgot."  It is also sometimes called the "Sin City," and perhaps either of those monikers are fitting for what transpired that day in the thick overcast valley.

This would be the setting of one of the most epic battles ever to be fought.  No, not in running circles alone, but a battle of all magnitudes, to rival those of ancient Roman armies and Persian troops.  It would be this day that the two battle tested men would face off to fight to the death...

Neither soldiers knew what the future held in store for them when they toed the line that day.  Both knew, that it could be a fun, close race, but neither knew just how tremendous the occasion would become by the end of the day.

They found each other at the starting gate, after a brief separation prior to assembling.  After a heartfelt Star Spangled Banner, the gun sounded, and a short while thereafter, the massive crowd began trudging forward slowly, like an old locomotive, struggling to break inertia.  Gradually gaining speed, the crowd walked faster and faster, until it was inevitable, all warriors broke into a slow jog.  Then, the starting mats appeared as though they had been beamed in by a magic teleport.  The race had begun.

Although, the race had just started, the die had long since been cast, about 150 miles north, in a small town called "Canton."  The battle of Canton was the site where these two warriors had faced off against one another, in what was considered, at the time, to be the race of all races.  But that was before today.  That was before an hour and sixteen minutes in the Boilermaker pressure cooker - and that is a story for another day.

One warrior broke to the left and started edging his way away from the other, but the crowds were thick.  The second soldiered forward, and took the lead a little while thereafter - but it was early.  The battle had just begun, and there was still at least over an hour and ten minutes to go before either would rest again.  The first began to settle in, and soon passed the second, acknowledging him cordially with a smirk on his face as he glided by, as if propelled by the Gods themselves.  After a few cursory glances back to see if the second was still there, the man in the yellow hat disappeared into the sea of people, disappearing from the second man's view by the time the vessel of humanity turned left and flowed towards the golf course entrance, as if they were one collective artery of a larger beast, all completing the event as as single entity - Pumping, beating, pulsing as one...

The man in the yellow hat may have checked his flanks several times throughout the battle - yet he was always satisfied that the second had fallen in battle, starting a little too fast for what he could handle that day.  He probably marched on in a confident stride, thinking that he would take the hill, and never hear from his rival again.  Each soldiered on, content to reserve any last motivation for competing solely against one's inner demons, for one believed that the other was too far behind, and the other had lost faith that he would ever see the yellow hat again until after the battle had ended and all that remained to challenge them would be barley, hops, and wheat.

And so it was, each had settled into running whatever race each could muster from within themselves, finding motivation not from each other, but from what ever drives a person to push forward without any motivation other than wanting to push harder just because you can, and you feel that you should.  This is the way it was for miles.  Each man lost alone within himself.

Then it happened.  Could it be?  Did the second just see a hint of yellow peaking through the massive crowds of craniums bouncing up and down like little bobble headed dolls dotting the streets of Utica?  He quickly dismissed it, because there had been no yellow in sight for ages.  Then, there it was again, a flash of yellow.  It was not until the final turn onto the home stretch, when the realization that the man in the yellow hat was in sight solidified in the second's mind.  He quickly asked for confirmation from his crew of senses.  "Ensign, please confirm sighting."  "Aye-aye skipper.  Affirmative.  The man in the yellow hat, 11 O'Clock, about 50 yards ahead sir."  

A quick glance at the watch confirmed what the man feared.  The end was imminent.  Less than one half mile to go.  There would not be enough time/distance to close the distance.  Content to finish close, and surprise the man in the yellow hat with his proximity would have to be enough.  There was not going to be any joy in Mudville that day - not enough real estate left...

So he settled into a strong but controlled effort.  Picking up the pace to where he felt he could move without crashing before the end.  Then, something odd began to transpire.  He looked up, and the man in the yellow hat appeared closer.  Could it be?  No, he thought.  It must be my mind playing tricks on me.  The sweat is blurring my vision.  Mr. Pink almost always gains ground on me going uphill.  It must be an illusion he thought - but it kept happening.  He kept getting closer.  When he realized that he was gaining ground on him going up the last uphill, he briefly thought that he might be able to get close if he could just open his stride up a little bit as the course turned downhill.  They had already passed the silent bagpipers.  Perhaps they were silent out of respect for what was to come.  The second had always listened for the pipes in order to know when to let what was left out.  Today, they were silent as he passed them - ominously so.

Then it happened.  He felt his stride open up.  They had reached the last downhill to the finish line.  The finish line was now visible, and the second felt his body move faster than he thought it could at that point in that day.  The man in the yellow hat was now just five feet, four, three, two, one, "Come on Allen!"  Two boilermaker Bibs, $110.  Two pairs of running shoes, $220.  The look on his face when he realized the second man had just passed him with 200 meters to go - priceless.

The first man reached deep within and found something he didn't realize he had left within him and surged, muttering something questionable under his breath.  He passed the second man effortlessly, and the second sensed that he did not have enough left to stay with the first.  He indicated so.  His utterance may have caused the first to slow ever so slightly, or perhaps the first no longer had a gluteus motivational maximus to strive for.  Whatever the reason, the first let off the gas, just enough to give the second a glimmer of a second wind.  And they sprinted...  If they were ancient warriors, they would have died on the battlefield that day, having exhausted all energy on their fight for victory.  Statues would have been erected in memory of their valiant efforts.  And did they ever sprint...  And they were forever grateful for the memories that they gave to each other that day, and for years to come.  Perhaps that is why the second runner feels that the other pseudonym that Utica holds is more apropos: "The Handshake City."

The tale of the tape:
5K: Allen ahead by 37 seconds
10K: Allen leads by 35 seconds
15K: The photos will reveal the truth