Chronicles of a Firecracker Miler
I have never missed a Fourth of July Parade. I have lived in Truckee for many years. At the beginning of the parade each year there is a group of runners completing the Firecracker Mile, right in front of the official reviewing stand. I am usually under one of the shade trees in front of the shops on the other side of the street. I watch these runners arrive with varying degrees of interest each year, waiting for the real event to begin. However, I am intrigued.
The runners do offer a degree of entertainment. Sometimes I know someone in the race or there is someone particularly young or old, or with a dog or a stroller. All seem to get a good workout, as there is plenty of huffing and puffing by most. A few seem unaffected and others seem overly effected. Each year I think that I will run next year. And then the parade begins.
I started running in January of this year. As the winter was unusually mild, even warm, and the skiing was lukewarm at best, I took to running.
In January I wouldn’t really call it running. I could manage about 50 yards of jogging-like motion before I would have to walk for a while. Now, there was a difference between the two activities, but not much. After about a month, I was actually jogging the better part of two miles, three to four times a week. By the end of February, I was jogging at a much livelier pace and completing up to three miles, five to six times a week. I continued to run through the winter of April and May. I was no longer jogging, I was running.
In June, I heard the first mention of the Firecracker Mile since the last Fourth. I’m going to do it!, I thought. I am fit. I am strong. I am healthy. Hey, I Am A Runner!
I got a little extra busy through June, what with graduation, increased business, the opening of fishing season, and I got down to two or three days of running a week, and closer to one mile than three. Still, it seemed silly to me to make a big deal about the Firecracker Mile. By definition, it’s only a mile. The registration sheet even said it was a downhill run. I signed up in the 40-49 age group. How many will I have to beat? Oh, well, it’s only a mile, after all, and it is all downhill. Who are all of those people huffing and puffing at the end of the race? C’mon, it is only a mile. It’s all downhill. Hey, I am a runner!
I knew a few participants, but not many. There were lots of kids and dogs. There were a few strollers. There was one woman that was quite a bit older in orange nylon shorts and a white tank top. And there were lots of adults in all age brackets and sizes. It was a good turnout and a good mix.
Go! I fly off of the starting line at a great pace. My strides are long, graceful, and effortless. A few runners take the lead immediately, but I feel I am among them.
And then I wasn’t.
By the time I pass the Sheriff’s building I am being passed regularly. My grace is slipping. My stride is heavy. My shoulders are tightening. A bunch of kids fly by. A woman with a newborn in a sports stroller glides by, smiling. A golden lab goes by with a young woman in tow. Is that fair? By the freeway under-crossing the old woman in the orange nylon shorts pulls up along side, and then past.
I force my shoulders to relax and begin to breathe easier. My pace is now closer to what I am used to. The tailwind breeze of those passing is almost refreshing, now. Am I going to finish this? Of course I am.
By Blue Sky Homes I am feeling my breakfast. It’s OK, I am OK. A couple of deep breathes and I am OK. Now finish! Hey, is that a little uphill I feel in front of the coffee shop? This is supposed to be all downhill! The rules said so. Another new mother with a stroller goes by. I am expecting another old woman, but with a walker this time. By the way, are those people walking this race still behind me?
I can see the line. Worse, they can see me. I should have been a little quieter with the only-a-mile thing.
I can actually begin to hear some cheers for the runners as they, we, near the finish. I see a couple of faces very important to me, smiling at my approach.
Am I seeing double? As I enter the finish funnel to turn in my nametag, I see the woman in the orange nylon shorts chatting and laughing as though she had just walked across the street to greet her companion. The frontrunners are long gone. As I look around, I see a lot of familiar faces, beaded with sweat, bent over pulling in extra breath, chuckling at themselves and at each other. So am I.
Well I guess I know what I will be doing at this time next year. Right after I eat crow for breakfast, I am going running. I am a Firecracker Miler.
Tom Ballou is a Truckee resident and Firecracker Miler.
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Olympic House was empty but for some maintenance workers and all those ghosts.