“Hello?”

Raced a 10K yesterday in Central Park. Coming out of a week-long headcold I didn’t know if I’d have much gas in the tank. Once I’d crested Harlem Hill and hit about mile 2.5 I knew I’d at least be able finish strong enough to look myself in the mirror.

Racing south on the west side roadway of the park is always tough. It’s rolling terrain, with a couple gentle downhills, yes, but definitely a few climbs as well to slow you down and get your lungs fit to bursting.

Looping around the bottom of the park after mile 5 I was chugging along, trying to pick off a runner here and there. Racing is all about the temporary and largely imaginary rivalries you strike up out there on the course. I was huffing and puffing and close to redlining it when I got boxed in among three or four dudes–and all of the sudden, the guy next to me’s phone rings.

Took my head right out of the game, it did. I mean, come on, man, why do you have your phone with you anyway? We’re supposedly sort of in the “serious” front end of the seven thousand runners behind us, there’s no place for phones and fuel belts and Bluetooth headphones. We’re just out here running, you know? We’re not the elite runners or even the fast runners but we are the sort-of fast runners, for our age at least.

I was thinking all that in a split second, when the dude with the ringing phone did the unexpected. He pulled it out of his belt and answered it. “Hello?” he goes and proceeds to chug alongside me as he puffs his way through a conversation.

I had thought I’d never get past him but this gave me all the motivation I needed. I needed to get as far away from him as quickly as I could, so I found an extra gear, squeaked between a couple others, and threw down a hard twenty-second effort.

Which put him well behind me, and a new target in focus: a woman who had glided past me at mile 3, looking smooth and relaxed. I figured then she was long gone but there she was. As we neared the 72nd St. transverse, where we’d shoot left and push up the hill for the final stretch to the finish, I managed to catch her, but then she bobbed away again.

I figured I was done for but with the finish-line timer in sight I somehow pushed myself into something of a sprint for the line and I think I got her by a few steps. Who knows? Who cares? I do remember we high-fived in the chute and grabbed a Gatorade from the same table and then I drifted with the rest of the finishers toward the baggage area.

I checked behind me for phone guy and finally spotted him, well behind. And still with his phone to his ear. I did care about beating that guy.