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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: United We Stand 10K
Date: Saturday, November 10, 2001
Location: Washington, DC
Race Type: Run - 10 km
Age Group: Male 20 - 24
Time: 0:35:45
Overall Place: 8 / 501
Age Group Place: 3 / 58
Comment: The tenth kilometer is always the hardest...

Race Report:

"He's about to attack. In 10 seconds, he's going to attack."

He has been behind me for the last three kilometers. Maybe more, but three kilometers ago is when I started to hear his footfalls. Shortly after that, I could hear his heavy breathing. The guy ahead of me is about fifty meters up. I envy him. He'll just cruise to the finish. I, on the other hand, am going to have to work for it.

As my pursuer closed in on me, I pushed. Harder and harder. The longer I can hold him off, the better. Here's the nine-kilometer mark, just as we move through a curve in the road. After that, it's a long, flat, straight run to the finish. He's on my heels, and as sure as I know that the sky is blue, I know that this is where he's going to attack. And I just don't have enough left in me to counter. He's on my right shoulder. He's entering my field of vision. He's next to me. He seems to pause there, not passing me as swiftly as he moved from behind. We're running side by side for only a second or two, but it's long enough to make it clear to me that he doesn't have much left in him. Unfortunately, neither do I.

He starts to pull ahead, and to concede the spot that I had held for the last four kilometers, I wheeze, "Go get 'em." He grunts in acknowledgement. He's now in front of me.

I came to race hard. I like to go long, because I can tolerate that dull, aching pain well. I'm not so good when I'm doing short races like this. Like a blow to the head, they can be excruciating. And when I start to feel that kind of pain, I ease up. I give in. I don't give it one hundred percent. My desire NOT to hurt exceeds my desire to cut some seconds off of my time, and move myself up in the standings. So I came here to see if I could emulate those athletes whom I respect so much: the athletes who can finish with the same intensity with which they start.

Now, as I start to fall back, I decide that it's time to see if I can squeeze one or two more drops of speed out of my legs. I won't be able to pass him, but maybe I can hold on to him. Somehow, it works. But it hurts. I was hurting from the first kilometer. But this is a new level of hurt. Now I'm going at a speed that I know I cannot maintain. But I don't think he can maintain it either. So it has come to this, a battle of wills and real estate. Who wants it more? Which one of us will hang on?

I start to feel the pace drop. It's an almost-imperceptible change in speed, but he's showing a chink in his armor. He didn't expect me to stick with him after his attack. Now is the time for the counterattack. Now, yes, now. I shift to a new gear, and enter a new world of pain, and the nausea that had been slight suddenly becomes severe. I get past him, and I realize that I made a mistake. I can't do this. I feel like I'm drowning. I feel like I'm on fire. I'm done. I need to ease up. I don't care about this race this much.

And in an instant, a montage of images passes through my head. I think about a race three weeks ago. When it hurt, I eased up. I could have gone harder, but I DECIDED not to do so. After that race, I felt terrible about my lack of determination. And I thought back to a marathon a year ago. I remember being passed by a woman at mile 22. While I was walking, she was running hard. That was the moment that I gained an understanding of the difference between great athletes, and everyone else.

I'm looking at the finish line. In less than a minute and a half, I'll be there. Yet there are two paths before me. I could continue to push, suffer, burn, put every bit of myself into this moment. Or I could stop the pain now, ease up, let him go. That second option has appeal. But I know from experience that the second option will hurt more. If I give up now, I'll feel a nagging pain as it eats away at me. That pain wouldn't start until after this race is over, but I know that it's there, waiting. I have to push. I have to make it through the next minute and a half. I'll put everything I have into this. If he tries to pass me, I'll find a way to counter. It's a risk, because if I fail, I'll have no excuses. I won't be able to say, "I could have done better if I wanted to." No, if I fail the only possible explanation will be that I just wasn't good enough. This is risky business. But I have no one other than myself to blame. I put myself into this position.

Thirty seconds and I'll be done. Thirty agonizing seconds. Still I want to quit. Still I know that I cannot. Thirty seconds. I can push myself for eleven, twelve, thirteen hours at a time. My pursuer is still behind me, but he's wheezing and making some croaking sound like he's trying to cry out, even though there isn't enough air to get beyond the initial moan. Thirty seconds. I've suffered too much to give up so close.

Ten seconds left. I don't even know if he's still behind me. He could be a meter back; he could be twenty meters back. I could relax, and my momentum could get me across the finish line. But if he's right on my heels, that could give him the opportunity to get by. If he's right on my heels, that's exactly what he is hoping will happen. It is not over.

Five seconds. I finally believe that things may turn out okay. I don't ease up at all, yet the pain starts to disappear...

The finish line was a piece of duct tape on the ground, just in front of some rope finish chutes. The race was only organized in the last month or two. There were perhaps four hundred participants. This was no major race. But my struggle had nothing to do with any of these external details. It was about myself. I wanted to learn if I am the kind of person who would not give up.

I pushed to the end. It hurt, but I held on. I was challenged, and thereby forced to face the possibility that my will would not be strong enough to finish this race as I had hoped. But my will was strong. I learned about myself. I did not give up.