What? It’s December? What happened to 2018? Travel, lots of writing projects (but apparently not blog writing projects!), travel, photography, and doing just about anything to get out of cleaning the house have kept me busy and mostly out of trouble. Oh, and I have returned in full force to the thing that keeps my endorphins flowing and my happy meter in high gear: Road races. Fifteen races for the comeback kid this year! Not bad for someone who was once told in a bad physical therapy session in 2016 that I was old, had arthritis (later proven not to be true by my surgeon), and was going to be sore. I was sore alright—at the idiot man who based his PT diagnosis on my age (61 at the time), and probably the fact that I’m not a skinny runner. Instead of slapping him upside the head, something my father would have recommended, I reported him instead for his ageism and stupidism remarks.
It’s been a long road (pun intended) since the initial injury in October 2015, the FINALLY-THE-CORRECT-DIAGNOSIS in early 2017, and leg surgery in April of 2017 for a acetabular labral tear and other disgusting business happening in my leg. After a long recovery, which included my husband bringing me fresh hot tea since I couldn’t carry anything while using crutches, refusing to take pain pills (isn’t that what beer is for?), lots of whining about NOT BEING ABLE TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS AND WALKING OUTSIDE OR EVEN DOWN THE HALL WITHOUT GOING CLUMP, CLUMP, CLUMP, I finally dropped the crutches for a walking stick. My physical therapy sessions in Traverse City were marvelous, and the PTs there thought my previous PT guy (another town, another system) was just as horrible as I thought he was.
The day my PT told me to “start walking on the roads” was a blissful day. I celebrated by walking a mile. Pain free. In September of 2017, I walked a 5K in Marquette, Michigan (GO TO THE UP OR GO HOME!), and the Turkey Trot in Traverse City in November. It felt good to be back, and I was ready to bring it on in 2018. To quote Big Joe Turner, “Flip, flop, fly, I don’t care if I die” during a road race.
I have been participating in road races for about thirty years, so I have learned a thing or two. The races in 2018 have reminded me of everything I love about training and road racing to what really, really irritates me. In the past three years, I have discovered that people cheat during road races. I had read about this happening in big road races where prize money is at stake, but local races? Seriously? For a plaque or an extra medal? Why do people cut part of the race or run when they are supposed to walk? I don’t get it.
I have also learned that technology is better. I am currently deeply infatuated with my Fitbit. Move it! I enjoy studying my stats on my computer after a race. As for foot-stomping music, I still listen to my cracked and ancient iPod. (Dear Apple, please make them again). I have moved on from Adidas shoes, then Nike, to a deep love affair with Brooks running shoes. However, I haven’t really cruised back into the running lane yet: I’ve turned into “Melissa-Aggressive Power Walker.”
On October 27th, the weather for the Mackinac Island Turtle Race consisted of high winds, rain, and cold temps. During a stretch of the race up in the interior of the island where horse poop is usually the worst obstacle, I passed a group of men running/walking in front of me. Since power walking requires PUMPING MY ARMS (hey, I studied videos on technique), and walking FAST with a specific roll of the hips, I had to get around Curly, Larry, and Moe. Curly shouted out, “Look out for her. She’s an aggressive walker.” Larry and Moe concurred, and they all moved over. Curly then told me that I could hurt someone. I looked back at dear Curly and said, “I haven’t hurt anyone—yet.” I never saw them again during the race. Who knew that intimidating other racers could be so simple? Perhaps a shirt with MAPW (Melissa—Aggressive Power Walker) would provide a cautionary warning? For the record, I ended up second in my age group for the race, and I aggressively held up my plaque for all to see. Not bad for an old lady, eh?
I had lots of other successes this year. Some races don’t have split categories, so I competed with runners while I power walked. During quite a few races, I passed runners. Aggressively. Despite clearly defined rules about cheaters, some people do it anyway. I guess those signed wavers don’t mean a thing! Some races now require walkers to have a bib with a number and a bib that says “Walker.” Or some bibs combine both sets of information. At the beginning of the Turtle, the announcer went on for about 5 minutes explaining to people why they should not cheat if they are walkers. How sad is that? And why are these people cheating? A recent article in Runner’s World declares “Over 250 Runners Were Caught Cheating at Shenzhen Half Marathon” by cutting the course. What the hell? Since I switched from running to power walking, I have been amazed by the number of so-called-walkers RUNNING during the race.
During the Elk Rapids Harbor Run in August this year, I sent a message after the race to the race officials. I inquired as to whether or not they had a policy against cheaters—in other words, so-called walkers running the race. Their response? “How did I know?” Seriously. Well, race officials, I’m not stupid, and if you look at the videos of the finish line area (I really just wanted to see how crappy I looked), you will see that people who were supposed to be walking were running. My first clue to the fact that some people might be cheating or cutting or whatever was the fact that a child barely out of diapers, listed as a walker (DUH), beat me. Now that is some fast-power walker! Future Olympian! I was kind of slow that day because of the heat (13:15 pace for the 5k), but I still thought I should have been faster than a youngster barely out of the crib. And the woman I encouraged towards the end of the race because I thought she was SUPPOSED TO BE RUNNING, well, she really had signed up as a walker. Thank goodness I beat her sorry-ass-cheating legs.
During the Bay City St. Patrick’s Day race this year, cheaters ran rampant. Seriously! They were supposed to be walkers, and it clearly said so on their bibs. A woman about my age was pretty worked up about a cheater she had confronted about cheating early on in the race! And then we saw another one! One of the young gals clearly cheating throughout the race ended up winning second place in her age group. I hope she feels good about the plaque she received.
When I used to run races, I never gave a thought to the fact that there were cheaters on the race course. As soon as I started power walking (while injured in 2016—yes, that’s stupid), I realized that not everyone feels as if they have to follow the rules of the sport. I don’t get it, but I guess I should understand it at this point in my life. Win at any cost—isn’t that how it goes now? I would rather be second to last in a race (like the Higgins Lake Sunrise 10K this year). At the Shanty-to-Shorts race this year in Bellaire, although I walked with runners and was 109th out of 118 participants, I managed to power walk myself to a first-place spot in my age group. Apparently, the runners in my age group had decided to skip the race or do the 10K! Thank you! I love the jam prize.
Since I feel as if I am somewhat of an expert on road races, I have decided to create a list of rules for future or current road racers to follow. Please let me know if there are other rules I should add.
Rules for Road Races
Never wear the race shirt during the day of the race. (All races)
If you aren’t participating in the race, do not stand in line for the port-a-pot five minutes before race time. (All races)
Start where you are supposed to start. Please note the large PACE signs now used at most races. Example: If you are a power walker, you go to the rear of the line where the walkers are located. Walkers are very cool people and love to chat. At least the non-cheating ones. For runners, if you are ten-minute miler, you do not line up with the seven-minute milers. Ask my son what he thinks about this. Or not. (All races)
Start in the back if you have a stroller. (All races)
Don’t walk or run three and four abreast while people are trying to pass you. You have put another brick in the people wall for me to get around you. (All races)
Don’t talk about food. Yes, this is a personal pet peeve of mine. While you are discussing how you can’t wait to eat a big greasy hamburger after the race, all I can think about is beer. Talk about beer. (All races)
Don’t walk backwards into me while you search for your friend. If you can see me, I can see you. I am not invisible! (Mac Island Turtle)
Learn how to grab, fold, and sip from your cups at the water/Gatorade stops. Do not come to a dead stop while I power walk my way through. (All races)
If you insist on pushing your child in a stroller during a road race with freezing-ass temps, please do something when your child is screaming for almost a mile. Leave the kid home? (Turkey Trot)
If you must force your dog to run or walk with you during a freezing-ass road race with salted roads, slush, and ice, please do not act surprised when your dog wants to drop out after the first mile. “Come on, Bowzer, only two more miles to go.” (Turkey Trot)
If you feel compelled to touch my butt during a road race because you like my water bottle on a belt, please DO NOT DO THIS EVER. (Years ago, while I was running a race in Flint.)
Do not cheat. Ever. (All races)
And of course, for training walks or during road races, if you are driving a car, you do not need to run over a person on the roads. Put down your cell phone! Pay attention. Just ask my friend Taylor what “Melissa—The Aggressive Power Walker” might scream at you on the road if you cannot move your stupid SUV over while we are out walking. Even your side mirrors could kill me. CAN YOU HEAR ME SWEARING AT YOU? Oh, yes, you slammed on the brakes, but did not come back to confront us.
I love training and participating in road races. Highlights for me this year include power walking the 5-miler Winterlaufe in Frankenmuth on February 2nd, and bringing home a 3rd-place (age group) cowbell. More cowbell! I also am extremely happy that I completed the trio of races on Mackinac Island this year: the Lilac Festival in June (3rd place in age group), Mac Island 8-miler in September (2nd in age group), and the Turtle in October (2nd in age group). I love pushing myself in a competition to see what I can accomplish with this body and these fairly old bones. Road races are mostly about the mental game of pushing yourself to go forward. I have learned to have a pretty convincing argument with myself about mile 5 or 7 if the conditions are rough, and my legs and arms have morphed into one of those giant inflatable advertising people you see outside offering deals on greasy pizza.
Road races also give me the chance to meet new people and hear their stories. Yes, I talk to anyone who wants to talk to me. I love encouraging people along the way and thanking the volunteers. I love the camaraderie after the race especially with my son. Plus, I get to hear his stories! As a bonus, my husband often comes with us, so we have fun while we travel to and from the races.
To round out the year, I recently walked the Jingle Bell Run/Walk in Midland with my good friend Julie. Although it was just a mile, it felt so good to be participating in a race with Julie again. We used to run road races together, so this event meant a lot to me. Plus, we both got to have our pictures taken with Santa. Did you know that the real Santa was in Midland at the race on November 29th for Julie’s birthday? Just saying. I told Santa I loved him, and I meant it.
I have already signed up for two races next year. I’m going to be an even leaner and meaner power-walker. Maybe I’ll give up cookies and beer. Or not. Maybe I will run a race with no split categories, or even sign up to run a race. I’m not sure. I’m really out of the running loop. After all, now that I have become an aggressive power walker, I’m kind of stoked about that moniker. I’m happy to be out on the roads at the ripe-old age of 63, looking for birds, especially raptors, not feeling any pain in my leg, and breathing in that fabulous Michigan air.