This blurry mid-race picture sets the scene: Mile 4 of a recent 6.2-mile trail race in Staten Island. (Yes, there are trail races on SI.) That’s me in the back, trying to keep contact with Blue Shirt Guy. He’s been right behind Black Shoe Guy—whose foot you see at lower left—the whole way. I started at the back of 70 or so runners, threading my way forward from the start. And now after four miles I’ve managed to reel these two in but I am HURTING, trying to keep myself together and not get dropped and throw away all the hard work I’ve done for 25 sweaty, slobbery minutes. Right here it feels like there’s no way I can pass them.
I’m in eighth place, though I don’t know it. I only know there are a few faster runners ahead of us but not too many. As you can see, Blue Shirt is in the process of taking a right-hand turn. I remember this moment because a few steps later, when it was my turn to bang a right, Blue Shirt and Black Shoes had both done what you should always do when you are taking a turn in a race: accelerate immediately so that the person(s) behind feel like they are falling behind; it may be enough to break them.
But I don’t break. I hang on for another mile and a half. A half-mile to the finish, we’re going up a hill, and the group has tightened up. I’m doing the only thing I can do: keeping contact, keeping the pressure on. Suddenly, halfway up the hill, Blue Shirt runs out of gas and starts walking! Boom. I zip around him and now have Black Shoes in my sights. Am I imagining it, or is he slowing down too? What is happening? I don’t pause to think. I accelerate. Boom again. I zip around him. Passing with authority. Leaving him in my–
And then it happens. I don’t know what exactly I trip on—a stone? a root? an angry squirrel?—but now I fall, hard, and am laid out flat and a bit stunned on the ground. The wind’s half knocked out of me. What just happened? No time to ponder. Black Shoes literally leaps over my pathetic carcass. “Sorry!” he shouts triumphantly. “Sorry not sorry!” is what he is really saying, of course. I don’t blame him! I pick myself up and take off after him, but I know he has too many steps on me now.
We break out of the woods, and circle around the golf clubhouse to the finish line on the far side. He’s twenty yards ahead. This final stretch feels like forever. Black Shoes beats me easily across the line.
I don’t care! I’d caught him and Blue Shirt! I’d beaten Blue Shirt! I’d pretty much beaten Black Shoes out in the woods and but for the stone or root or rotten rodent who tripped me I’d have beaten him home—and we both knew it. I felt victorious as I shook his hand at the bagel table. What a race! What a hoot! Sorry not sorry indeed. I wasn’t sorry at all.