On Saturday, February 4th, the final leg of the Polar Bear Grand Prix was held in Cherokee Park. The Snowman Shuffle 4 Miler presented a challenging conclusion to the racing series for the tens of billions of runners who traveled from the farthest reaches of the planet to participate (possible overstatement – I suck at counting). Shockingly enough, at no point did the race transform into a violent free-for-all of carnage and bloodshed, despite my best efforts.
Unlike the previous two races in the Grand Prix - the Reindeer Romp and the Frostbite 5k  - my 11 year-old daughter chose not accompany me, as her training regimen had been thrown off by her volleyball schedule. On one hand, I no longer felt tethered to her pace or forced to act “parent-ly” in front of the Kentuckiana running elite, who seem to be a tad judgey toward some of my quirks (I have a tendency to curse loudly when I vomit, especially in publicly).
But on the other hand, I’d have to run alone, which considering I suffer from a general lack of focus, could have resulted in me veering off the path and getting lost in the park, forcing me to rely on pure instinct to survive, like a feral suburban man-child.
Additionally, I wouldn’t be able to project all of my failings as an athlete on to my daughter, showering her with such encouragement as “Quit being a baby and run faster!” or “If you don’t win this race, I will take everything you own, put it in a giant pile in the backyard, and light it on fire!”
But alas, I soldiered on. I am runner, hear me roar (actually it’s less of a roar and more like heavy panting).
8:30 p.m. (the night before) – Because I will be running this race solo, I decide to be more serious in my approach. Therefore, I begin an intense evening of stretching, geared at transforming my weak, baby-like muscles into lean and limber machines of running success.
3:55 a.m. – I have been stretching now for nearly 7 ½ hours. I am nothing more than pudding, cased in a bag of pasty skin. Further complicating matters, I am dangerously close to the flexibility point-of-no-return, which would result in me quitting my job, cutting off my family, and never leaving my bedroom.
7:30 a.m. – Having learned from previous races that punctuality might not be my strong suit, I decide to catch a ride with my reliable friend Katy. Race time isn’t for another ninety minutes, and I’m already out the door. Before I leave, I catch a final glimpse of my 11 year-old former running partner. She briefly opens her eyes and mutters, “Try not to have a stroke, dad.”
8:00 a.m. – We arrive at Cherokee Park an hour before the race. Normally, this would be awesome as it would allow for plenty of pre-race stretching. Since my muscles are just now starting to transform back into a solid state, this is of no benefit to me. It’s also 40 degrees and raining which is not weather consistent with something called a “Snowman Shuffle,” unless you’re referring to the sh*tiest snowman ever made. Katy and I opt to stay in the car until closer to race time.
8:20 a.m. – Further proving that I have no idea how to talk to a woman, I quickly run out of reasonable topics to discuss and I begin telling Katy about the time I cried my eyes out while watching Philadelphia, and then stood up and accused everyone in the room of being monsters for not crying as well. Katy interrupts me to say that she’ll need to leave as soon as the race is done and that I should find another ride home. She also says something under her breath about me and her cat.
8:50 a.m. – We step out in the rain and begin our final race preparation. Since I will not have my daughter to talk to, I put in my ear buds and crank up my iPod, with every intent of losing myself in the music. This should also drown out the “Get the hell out of the way!” chants that inevitably break out when I run.
8:57 a.m. – Rain is cold. And wet, too. The positive is that I can now pee myself with impunity. The negative is that the likelihood of nipple chaffing has gone up exponentially. The latter is of particular concern as I have twice been named, “Supplest Nipples” by Areola Aficionado Quarterly.
9:00 a.m. – We’re off! As I cross the starting line, the Killers tune “All These Things That I’ve Done” rattles around my head. If running can be viewed as a metaphor for escaping from ones problems, then this song choice might seem poetic. Considering that courtesy of an unexpected and violent sneeze, I just accidentally cropdusted those running directly behind me, I consider this song merely appropriate.
9:04 a.m. – Just remembered the hard way that I ate asparagus for dinner last night. So much for peeing with impunity.
9:10 a.m. – Because my daughter is not with me, I find myself running at a much faster pace. Whereas before, we ran closer to a 12 minute mile, I’m a bit surprised to find that I’ve completed the first mile in under ten minutes. I begin mentally preparing myself for all the vomit that will be expelled from my body in the coming moments.
9:17 a.m. – “All Of the Lights” by Kanye West comes on. I only mention this because I’m a 39 year-old white guy who has Kanye West on his iPod. That counts for something, right?
9:19 a.m. – My left leg begins imploding into itself like a dying star. I now officially hate hamstrings more than racism. That being said, I am still maintaining a sub-10 minute mile pace.
9:21 a.m. – “Bodysnatchers” by Radiohead comes on, which seems more consistent with being a 39 year-old white guy. I match my pace to the rhythm of the song and my leg pain begins to dissipate just in time for the first big hill of the race.
9:28 a.m. – I have conquered the hill without expelling any additional bodily fluids (it’s cold and asparagus pee is warmer than rain). I attribute some of my success at climbing this hill to “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. For the record, this is one of the three or four greatest songs ever written. Hearing this song played loudly will allow you to do anything better. It’s a scientific fact. I also attribute a good amount of my success in scaling the hill to my daughter. In our previous two races, no matter how tired she was, she always ran uphill hard. Part of me thinks she would have been proud of me. The other part thinks she’d just roll her eyes. In her honor, I start giving random children the middle finger.
9:30 a.m. – For the record, I’m still running sub-10 minute miles. Suck it, Susan G. Komen Foundation.
9:33 a.m. – The rain has only intensified. There are parts of my body that don’t get this wet during a shower. I might be bad at showering.
9:36 a.m. – As I climb the last hill of the four miler, I realize that I might be able to finish the race in under 40 minutes. Not sure if it’s runner’s high or all the whippets I did around the third mile, but my legs feel fresher than at any previous point in the day.
9:38:44 a.m. – As I cross the finish line, I hear Ed Vedder tell me that “Life has nothin’ to do with killing time.” That’s a nice sentiment to hear at a moment like this and I wish I could say I lived by those words. I instinctively want to high five my daughter. At its core, running is a solitary experience. A series of physical barriers that give way to even more trying mental barriers. We all want to be cheered on at whatever finish line we cross. I’ve enjoyed having her around the previous two races, and selfishly, I wish our schedules had worked out differently, allowing her to make it this time as well. I’m proud of her for what she accomplished. As the Grand Prix comes to an end, I pace around, waiting to cheer on Katy as she crosses the finish line.
Photo courtesy of the Whitpan Memorial Archives