Sunday, November 28, 2004

From the Post: "One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow is free to stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long."
The Thrill of ...
Every fourth Sunday of the month the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders put on concurrent 5K, 10K and 15K races. In rare possession of a Sunday without obligations I ventured down to Oakland this morning to check it out. There's not much fanfare to these races. No T-shirts. No vendors or over-caffeinated announcers. No lines for the bathrooms! Now add in the fact that the entry fee is a paltry four bucks ($3 for members) -- and that the lovely course in the heart of the city is certified -- and you've got a big winner.

Did somebody say winner?

That's another thing that's great about the LMJS Fourth Sunday Run: It's small enough -- usually between 50 and 100 total runners -- that you might actually end up a winner.

Most of the runners do the 10K, the benchmark distance for weekend warriors, and I was leaning in that direction right up until the woman doing the sign-ins asked me, "5K, 10K or 15K?" For reasons unknown, I blurted, "15K," joining five others at the distance.

I usually have a well-developed idea of how fast I might go in a race, but today, doing a distance that was both unanticipated and which I had never before run, I was clueless. My last run, on Thanksgiving Day, was miserable, a five-mile, leaden-legged trudge. I guess I was hoping I'd break 70 minutes, but I wasn't overflowing with confidence.

The morning was shockingly clear after some rain early Saturday. A cold wind was blowing hard from the north/northeast. Foolishly, I usually don't do much of a warm-up, but today the bite in the air inspired me to move and I ran a very slow half-mile up the lakeshore, and then turned around and headed back to the starting area. Five minutes later, we were off, running either one (5K), two (10K) or three (15K) laps around the lake.

The first half-mile I worked my way past some slower folk, avoiding the many non-racers winding their way around the lake as well, and bracing against that wind. But I felt good. I was running loosely and easily. It occurred to me that doing a solid warm-up regularly might not be a bad idea.

My first lap split was 22:30. I picked up the pace slightly. At the end of the second lap I was at 44:15. Still felt good. As the last lap began, I could see one 15K runner maybe 30 or 40 yards out in front of me (I figured there were others, farther ahead). I made it my goal to close on him if I could do so without killing myself. About halfway around, I caught him and rolled along.

With a last lap of 21:47, I crossed the line in 66:02.

After finishing I wandered around the grassy area where other finishers were hanging out and yacking or stretching in the sunshine. I sipped some water and did a personal post-race inventory, noting that my knees were utterly ache-free and my muscles felt taxed but not at all shredded. The morning chill had eased under the sun's bright assault and I was feeling good about having come out to do this race. Just then, over at the little card table where the race organizers were tabulating entries and results, I heard a man say, "Is Peter Danko here? Peter, where are you?"

I stepped forward.

"Here," the fellow said, reaching into a plastic bag. "I should give you your award now in case you have to get going."

I said, "Oh, did I get top three?"

"You won," he said.

"My age group?"


I won? I was amazed. I said something self-deprecating, something about being fortunate there were so few racers. The man said, "Hey, 66 minutes is a good run."

That's not a time that wins on very many Fourth Sundays, but the first prerequisite to winning is showing up, right?

So with that I took my first place ribbon and made my way home. Driving up the freeway toward Napa, I couldn't help but think about the year I've had. There has been much struggle, at home and at the office. Doubt, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety -- all of it seemingly always hovering, like clouds, obscuring the many gifts that have come my way. And yet here I was, on a sparkling Sunday in late November, a winner. I shed a tear of joy and laughed at myself. Silly me, I thought: Needing a ribbon to know it's a good run.