This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … my alleged maturity.
Not that I can verify that anyone has speculated that I might actually be acting my age. But just in case anyone who knows me began to wonder if this 45-year-old Sears Craftsman Lifetime Guarantee tool had put away childish ways, I am here to tell you that that is in no way the case. Let me tell you about last weekend. Or let me try to tell you. It’s a bit difficult typing with stitches in both palms. Let me start at the beginning.
This past March a former student of mine talked me into signing up to do a Muddy Buddy race with him in Richmond, Virginia. Two partners complete a relay race that involves mountain biking, running and going over, under and through five low-difficulty obstacles. If you’re interested in learning more about it (and I know you’re not), you can go to muddybuddy.com.
I knew I could handle this. I still run or bike most days. However, I’m not one of those pathetic middle-aged yahoos who tries to maintain the body of a much younger man. I just enjoy the endorphin rush of a good ride or run and not having to buy bigger pants every six months. I figured that the seven-mile race course would provide very little challenge, as I can easily run seven miles, and I’ve put in a few 35-mile road bike treks this summer. And I was right. The distances were a snap. It was the height that did me in. But I’ll get to that.
I made sure that my partner knew that I was not “in it to win it,” and he assured me he was of the same mindset. This race is not supposed to be competitive. The reason it’s called “Muddy Buddy” is because the last obstacle, found just before the finish line, require you and your partner to crawl through 30 feet of 10-inch deep mud. The whole point is to have a little fun while exerting yourself a bit.
My partner began the race on the bike, and we runners started two to three minutes later so as not to clog up the not-very-wide state park trail. I started in the back and continued to hang in the back for the first half mile. However, once the other runners’ adrenaline rushes subsided, I found myself getting irritated at the slower pace of some of the runners, many of whom were younger and, at least in appearance, in much better shape than I. So I started passing people.
When we got to the first hill, I found that I could blow past a lot of the struggling runners on the slope. At this point, a nice run/ride in the park turned into the quest for gold. Mr. Not In It to Win It was now, not even one mile into the race, wondering just how good a time he could turn in if he and his younger partner could keep up this pace. (My partner was in incredible shape. He was also … well, I’ll tell you that important fact in a minute.)
I got to the first obstacle and breezed through it. I found my partner’s discarded bike. (He was now running the next leg. See how it works? You don’t? Doesn’t fucking matter.) I went to mount the bike, and this was the beginning of my trauma. He is six feet, three inches tall. I am not. I think on a good day I can claim 5′, 9″, but only if Jupiter and Saturn area aligned in a manner that allows for their gravitational pull to straighten me out of my 45-year-old crouch. I wish someone had a video of my performance. I’d gladly split the first-place winnings from America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Have you ever seen the classic movie Breaking Away? (If you answered in the negative, stop reading this and go rent it right now. You will not see a better sports movie, and it’s hilarious.) Well, by the time I was able to jump onto the seat and find the pedals with my searching feet, I looked just like the liter-sized little shit in the movie when he somehow manages to make it onto the bike and do a few laps in the big race. I had lost precious seconds in the now ultra-competitive (in my pathetic mind) Muddy Buddy race for all-time Sportscenter glory. Or so one would think, with the way Ned “Call Me Lance Today” Bitters was ready to barrel down the path.
I hit the path and began pedaling. I had gone maybe 10 yards when in front of me another charter member of the “For Chrissakes, You’re not a Young Man, So Settle the Fuck Down” club tried to pass a runner. He turned too sharply and his bike slid down sideways on some gravel. I was headed right for his rear tire. Had I been on my own bike, with its seat set for people who are not the size of my Manute Bol-ish partner, I’m pretty sure I could have veered around him and continued my frantic attempt to pass more people in my sad attempt to find weekend state park glory.
But like I said, I was not on my own bike. I awkwardly tried to steer to the side, but I saw that I was going to clip his rear tire, which was still spinning after his slide out. Had I just hit the tire with my front tire, I might have just bounced off and kept going, or maybe had a mild crash. Instead, I hit the brakes, a smart move. Most of the time. The bike I was on was equipped with ultra sensitive hydraulic brakes, which means that anything more than a slight hand clench locks up the brakes. I clenched up hard. I locked up the brakes. There would be no Sunday glory. Just Sunday gore.
If you have read carefully to this point, you might remember that this race involves biking, running and overcoming obstacles. At this point, I added a new twist to the competition: Flying. I sailed over the left handlebar, all 45 years of me. It was at this point I wished I had taken up golf, or tennis, or even giving Sunday morning hummers behind a city dumpster for ten spots. These activities do not involve being airborne and landing on hard dirt and gravel.
Fortunately, some residual athleticism from my youth took over, and I took the fall square on my palms. I rolled onto my left shoulder and arm and did another somersault. I got up immediately as other bikers zoomed by asking if I were okay. It was perfunctory concern. They would have kept riding even had I said, “Yes, except for this feeling of paralysis.”
My palms were a bloody mess, but I managed to remount the bike and make it to the next obstacle and switching station. When I dismounted, I saw that my hands were soaked in red, and my partner’s handlebars were a bloody, sticky mess. He just jumped on his bike and took off. He told me later that he thought I had crashed into some pine trees and gotten sap all over the bike.
With palms that a crucified Christ would not have traded for, I finished the race, including the crawl through the mud. Considering all my difficulties with the bike, we had a damn good time and finished the race. I got hosed off at the squirting station. (Yes, I got all fiery competitive in a race with a squirting station.) I finally took a good look at my hands. Both had gashes so deep that white gooey tissue was popping out. I figured it was time to go back to the hotel and take the most painful shower of my life.
I found a hospital on the ride home and made my first ever trip to the ER. Every time I told another hospital worker what happened, I could see that look come into their eyes. I think it’s called “sadness.” I think they pictured me being the middle-aged married guy who sneaks into the club on Friday night and leans against a wall bobbing his balding head and tapping his bunioned foot as he eyes up the young chicks he hasn’t been able to get for 15 years and will certainly not get tonight.
I got stitches in each hand and made my way home. All told, it turned out to be a great day. The only bad memory from the day was the wait for the hoses after the race. You’re supposed to just hose off the major gunk and get truly cleaned up later on your own. But some of these asswipes were taking 10-12 minutes with the hoses, getting themselves cleaner than I do after a regular home shower. I guess they figured they had to look spiffy for all the hot women who were also in the race and hanging around the post-race activities. Can you believe the ego of some guys? I mean, for god’s sake … grow up.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.