By Ken Lizotte CMC
Published in the Concord Journal
Every year, he would beat me. I didn’t even know his name, or even that he existed at all, and he certainly didn’t know me. Yet over the years I began to recognize his name above mine on the list of finish times for Concord’s annual 4th of July 5-mile Minuteman Classic. He was always 2, 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me even in years when I thought I had run especially well. Rennie Slater, my nemesis… grrrr.
Last year, 2011, I determined I would set things right. Though I only vaguely knew what he looked like, I tried scanning the runners at the starting line for a glimpse of him. Nothing. Could it be that he wasn’t running this year?
At 9 AM sharp, two muskets blew and the whole mob sprung across the line. My strategy would be to start off strong, get Rennie in sight and keep him there. Since he was tall like me, I knew I would spot him soon. Then I’d slyly maneuver my way in front of him and-—bang!—cruise way ahead! This would be a breeze.
At the one-mile mark, I still hadn’t seen him. Tromping with the others over the North Bridge, I kept looking. He had to be here, he was always here. Probably running far ahead of me, as was his way.
We all reached the four-corner stop at Barrett’s Mill Road, then reeled left down Lowell Road. Approaching the 2-mile mark, lo and behold… there he was! He trotted ahead of me diligently, cluelessly, not a care in the world. I put on some speed.
Pounding toward Main Street, I passed him. He had no idea of course what I was up to, he just kept plodding. But I was ahead of him now and silently vowed to stay that way. He would bow to me one day, a mere paean in running shoes.
It wasn’t all that easy staying ahead, though. By mile 3, times were getting tough. It was dead-summer hot now, just past 9:30 AM, as it usually was, and I kept wanting to slow down and walk. But a quick glance backward cured me of that. Rennie’s light orange t-shirt was reflecting the sun not that far behind. Slow down now, even just a bit, and he would be ahead again.
Near the corner of Thoreau and Laurel, I started not to care. Aw hell, so what if he beats me? Why does it matter? Who would know? In a flash I knew the answer: I would! Shaking the devil out of my ear, I pumped myself back up and returned to my original mission.
Bearing down hard on Stow Street, I could see fluorescent-bannered volunteers up ahead, crying out melodiously, “Only one half mile left!” “You can do it.” “Almost there.” Now I would do it, no matter how painful it would be. I picked up my pace, began to sprint, pushing myself harder and putting him away. I chose to keep looking ahead not back. He was surely too far behind me now to see him, anyway.
Pound-pound, push-push. The finish line came barreling toward me, closer with each driving breath. I was burying him! Oh the sweet agony of his failure. Rennie Slater… far back in the pack, defeated.
I whistled past the finish line and slowed to an exhausted walk, just loping around Emerson Umbrella. Looking back to the finish line, I couldn’t see him. Who knew how long before he arrived? Maybe he had even dropped out.
I ambled back to Hunt Gym to look over the list of finish times posted on the building’s brick wall. First checking my time, I began to scroll down to find Rennie’s time, obviously some minutes below me. But wait… wait-wait… there he was already. I had beaten him, yes… by 14 seconds!
Huh? All that heart, resolve, drive, exhaustion… the “blood” and sweat and tears… for 14 seconds?
I looked up and wondered had it been worth it. 14 seconds. Well, I did beat him, hadn’t I? For the first time, he hadn’t won.
OK, next year we would meet again. Next year I would widen the gap. 14 seconds? Next year Rennie Slater wouldn’t know what hit him. I would win by a glorious 18 seconds or even 20. He would be my nemesis no more.
Ken Lizotte CMC is our CIO (Chief Imaginative Officer) and author of “The Expert’s Edge: Become the Go-To Authority that People Turn to Every Time” (McGraw-Hill) and four other books. To contact Ken, click here.