Buses cart us from the registration center at Skinner's Butte to the start across town. Approaching the first steep climb, there is silence as we contemplate the grade rising like a wall in front of us. We have to run down this? The driver shifts into lower and lower gears, but nothing seems to relieve the straining machine. We move into woods where a deer stands just inside the tree line.
Trailing water, the bus drags into the parking lot with a long drawn-out hiss. Two other buses discharge runners on the road below.
People begin to warm up. Paul and Scott Slovic are moving around. The Slovics have returned from nearly half a year in Israel where Paul, an experimental psychologist, did research and ran every morning with his eldest son. "People were curious—kids would clap and count cadence in Hebrew when we passed," Paul says. "But I'm so addicted to running, I continued anyway. It's really almost a sacrifice to do without it."
Now Geoff Hollister, who organizes the road runs, signals that we're about to begin. "Like to point out some of the people running today," he says (Hollister tends to do things like this) and proceeds to introduce the mayor, a couple of Olympians and some pro football players. The sky is overcast and the breeze cool. In singlet and shorts, I have to keep moving to stay warm.
"O.K. Now you should all keep in mind," Hollister is saying, "that a train is due to cross High Street at about," he looks at his watch, "at about 8:30."
Cries of "Let's get started!"
And so we begin, rushing pell-mell down the road. "Let gravity do the work," is sage downhill running advice, so I freewheel, passing more cautious souls who seem to be trying to put on the brakes.
Janet Heinonen turns as I draw alongside. "I can always tell it's you by your breathing," she says. "How's your hay fever?" Before I can answer, my legs have carried me away. Overgrown pastures and vacant lots flash past. In one sits an airplane without wings. Stocky horses graze in long grass. My Lord, I'm passing people I can't possibly beat. But the first uphill undoes all the distance my freewheeling gained, and I find myself plodding. We pass a girl sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a telephone pole, who gestures at us with a beer bottle. "I don't believe this," she says. "Do you believe this? I don't believe this."
A pale guy in white sweat pants has been tailing me for a mile, but won't pass. His breathing is arrhythmic and distracting. I get some kind of cramp under my collarbone and gradually fade back. A pudgy man on a 10-speed whizzes by and shouts, "Run! Don't walk!" At times like this I wish I wore a sign that said, "I have just run 15 miles, dammit, so shut up and get out of my way!"
White Pants is still wheezing along. Two hundred yards from the finish my husband waits by the side of the road, his race already won. I am tired and bitchy and think to myself, "Kenny, don't you dare tell me to go after him and don't run with me," and I keep my eyes glued to the ground as I go by. Kenny just hollers, "Great run, Bobbie!" which turns out to be exactly the right thing. I outkick White Pants and finish 154th. White Pants is 155th and is bent over making horrible noises.