My Favorite Loss (May 5, 1999)

It was just me and my son Riley leading the 17th Annual Boontling Classic 5K runners west on Anderson Valley Way to the turnaround. As we hit the mile in 5:36, I said, “Just like a training run,” and through heavy breathing he answered, “Yeah,” sounding a bit insincere since he knew we were not at our usual seven-minute mile training pace. 

Yes, I was pushing the pace because I wanted to win and figured my best chance was to run that wicked kick out of him. Sure, he’s faster than I am, but hell, I’ll be 55 years old next month, so he better be!

He first beat me (and his older brother Eli) in the 200-meter dash at an Empire Runners’ All-Comers track meet in Santa Rosa when he was just thirteen. But 3.1 miles is 25 times longer than 200 meters and I have twenty-two years of continuous endurance training and over 400 races under my belt.

What does he have under his belt?

There was his accident. A year and a half ago he jumped off a roof, no doubt thinking he was invincible, and fractured both heels. He was on his back for three months, then crawled around on knee pads, then crutches, and finally just enduring the everyday aches and pains of a multiple fracture that refused to heel.

He talked about wanting to run again, but I had my doubts, and was happy when he finally could walk and go back to work. But then three months ago he started running again. His right heel still bothered him, but he iced it and took days off, and kept at it. Before long I had him on the Mendocino College track with me doing speed workouts. He had a long, powerful, impressive stride. While I’m up on my toes damn close to 100% effort, he’s cruising at ¾ speed, with a smile on his face.

As we passed the other runners on the return to the finish line, I felt so proud running side by side with my 21-year-old son, especially after all he’d been through, and in one of my favorite local races.

With about a half-mile to go I knew I had to crank up the pace to run that awesome kick out of him, hoping he’d drop back and give up, be happy with second and first in his age-division.

It worked. I surged and he didn’t come with me, so I surged again, and he fell even further back. A piece of cake. With less than 100 meters to go I had 30 meters on him and knew the race was mine. As I was coming into view of the finish line clock I was picturing myself accepting the winner’s plaque and thinking of what inspiring words I should offer him… when the crowd suddenly gasped, like when Superman came out of nowhere, swooping down and grabbing Lois Lane just before she hit the pavement.

That’s right, I was literally one second from the finish line when he shot by me! My official time was 18:13 and his was 18:12. The first time he ever beat me at any distance longer than 200 meters.

He said after I looked back the second time that he took off as if we were running 200s on the track. Then asked, with a straight face, “Dad, how come you didn’t kick?”

I looked at him… and we both laughed. 

And that was My Favorite Second Place.

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