Not your mother’s race report

So I found myself sitting in a car with a bunch of Central Mass Striders teammates, anticipating the start of a 5K and interspersing the usual light trash-talk with some desultory complaints about the weather. The verisimilitude started and ended there, but as is usually the case, every rock-solid indicator that I was dreaming meant nothing while I was in the throes of this phantasmagorism.

I can’t remember exactly who else was in the car with me, but I am going to guess that two of the other three or four occupants included Jim Johnson and Dave Dunham if only because those guys race about 119 times a year. The race was a 5K held somewhere in Rhode Island, I believe in the northwestern part of the state (as if such distinctions matter in a patch of land no bigger than Charlie Sheen’s rap sheet). It was raining hard. The part of the dream I remember with any clarity started with the five of us pulling up to the starting line, which was at the top of a hill. This must have been a cross-country race because in front of us was a steep grassy downhill, an open space that ended somewhere in the distance in an expanse of trees. What set it apart from other 5K running races I have taken part in was the fact that whoever was driving (I was in the back seat) made the abrupt and unilateral decision to “run” the race by driving the course, citing the poor weather as the chief factor in this decision. The rest of us agreed. Come to think of it I think Francis Burdett was in the passenger seat, which would make sense since he has never actually to my knowledge been in CMS but has pretended to be for at least 15 or 20 years. The car was a compact model, maybe a Ford Escort, and reminiscent of Dave’s old maroon speedwagon with the Power Bar sticker on the bumper, an empty king-size box of Mike ‘n’ Ike’s on the floor heralding last night’s dinner, and a bag of several dozen bagels purloined from the most recent previous race as a means of forestalling the a week’s worth of grocery shopping. But I don’t actually recall any of these items being in the dream.

Anyway, it was raining so hard that someone, and I think it was Dave, decided to invoke a rule of which I was hitherto unaware: that in cases of inclement weather, it was permissible for members of the same club to cover the course in a car rather than on foot. This settled, we waited for the starter’s pistol, ignoring the curious looks from the runners from other teams standing on either side of the car, rubbing themselves and trying to keep warm.

Once the gun went off we wasted no time in outpacing the rest of the field, probably because we were in a motor vehicle and the others were not. But almost immediately we found ourselves in deep shit. The driver gunned the engine, and while someone complained that the end of the race was gonna suck because it would have to be all uphill, the car promptly lost traction on the muddy slope and spun around while gaining speed at a remarkable rate, a state of affairs known as “acceleration” in physics. Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes was playing on the sound system, I recall that much with certainty. Whoever was sitting to one side of me (I was in the middle) sensed the gravity of the situation and hunkered down into something like a ball while the driver whooped and pumped the brakes to a brilliant lack of effect. I knew that this was going to end poorly because the path entering the woods at the end of the bottom of the hill was too narrow to accommodate a car and there was no way were headed for this safety portal anyway. The car fell silent, and I closed my eyes and waited for the explosion of glass, metal, and bagels. Yet it didn’t come; minutes passed with the car careening along and switching ends at what had to be at least eighty miles an hour, and it wasn’t long before fear for my life gave way to genuine curiosity about out splits. I had started my watch when the gun had been fired and now rose up and risked a peek out the window, hoping to spot a clock along the course or at least a sign or line signaling that we had reached an even number of miles or kilometers. While I did not expect us to survive to the two-mile mark, much less make it up the hill to the finish, I at least wanted to record as many split times as possible for posterity, however short-lived and noncontributory.

That was when I woke up. For at least the first five seconds I lay awake I was waiting for the crash despite knowing better at some dim level. Despite the jaunty manner in which I have reported this dream, it was a little disturbing, and not just because I had to deal with the peculiar odors, driving habits and mockeries of my clubmates, without which I never would have had as much fun as I have with post-scholastic running. I’m sure its genesis lay in the near-certainty that I will attempt to complete a competitive event very soon, while the tableau itself was evocative of a memorable scene in the third season of Lost in which Hurley and Jin manage to get a decrepit old van started by running it down a steep hill, narrowly missing a nasty collision with a few boulders in the process.

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