A hole in my bucket - On the Run With Matt Mcgowan

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A hole in my bucket

Posted by Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan
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              By Ted ThompsonIt is a bucket list thing.  And maybe that’s part of the problem. I have been running, with varying degrees of “success”, since my sophomore year in high school.  In the hundreds of races in those thirty plus years I have had the good fortune to finish anywhere from second on back.  I chased the lead police car through the streets of suburban Chicago in a 10k only to get picked off  in the final mile. There have been great races with strong times- But I have never won.    Now, after a strong winter of fast treadmill training the idea takes root.  Win a race.  Not Boston, or Atlanta or even a big race.  I put together a plan. 

A neighbor of mine counseled, as prompted by my concerned wife, that it was “time to let go”.  Give up the hard life of running.  Put my time into the bike, or the pool , or the elliptical.  Quit limping around, it was a little embarrassing at my age. 

                “Everyone knows you used to be fast” he smiled consolingly.  “No one cares whether you are fast now”

                I nodded in understanding and said nothing.   But I cared-a lot.  When I saw “Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (the greatest movie ever!)  and they asked

                “Who wants to go fast?” my arm shot in the air. The only one in the theatre.  Now that was embarrassing.  Going fast is fun, it always has been, always will be.

I had chosen correctly.  It was a small, first time, out of the way 5 k race.  No one really good would go there, why would they?   And this race had costumed characters.  I kid you not.   Someone dressed up as Superman, another guy as The Green Lantern,  a very interesting Wonder Woman and , appropriately, The Flash.  They all looked pretty good from a distance, too.  Taking pictures with the kids, goofing around, it was perfect. 

                The morning was chilly with a light drizzle, the kind you wake up, look out and say “Isn’t Spring in Columbus wonderful?” or something along those lines and promptly go back to bed.  Except I didn’t.  I had a mission.  While the rest of the house slept, I slurped coffee and day dreamed of triumph. 


When you’ve run as many road races as I have and been pretty competitive you learn to pick out your adversaries.  Some weed themselves out for you

  • Anyone who puts there number on the back of their shirt (and has help doing it)-out.  Anyone wearing New Balance shoes-out.  
  • Anyone smoking before the race-out. 
  • The guy wearing his 1996 Atlanta Peach Tree Run that was almost see through from untold launderings-out.  
  • The previously mentioned Wonder Woman-out.
  • Anyone with a single digit racing number-in. 

                As I scanned the crowd ten minutes before the race there was nobody that I thought could ruin my plan.  I was the only one warming up and the expressions of the people around me said “What’s he doing?  Doesn’t he know he has to run THREE MILES?”  But I did know.  I asked one of the volunteers if the course would be clearly marked and she laughed “Just follow everyone else”.

                There was a little speech about the charity we were running for.  Thank you’s for coming on such a rotten day.  A Beyonce wanna-be sang the National Anthem a capella.  I was nervous.  The woman who gave the speech said “on your marks” and in an instant the small crowd realized that she was going to start the race and no one was at the starting line.  There was a jostling scramble.  The guy on the lead bike yelled “Wait” in a panicked sqawk.  I smiled.  I was already at the line.

                When we were somewhat more ready she blew the horn and we leapt from the line (at least I did).   200 hundred yards in I could barely hear anyone else.  I followed the bike as he lazily peddled along glancing back every so often to make we were on the right track. 

                The first mile was approaching when I heard the footsteps.  I turned to see The Flash gaining on me. 

                “Now that doesn’t seem hardly fair” I teased.

                He shrugged.  Apparently Super Heros aren’t very talkative.  I followed him down the hill and tuned left to go uphill.  The halfway point was a U-turn.  As he came toward me The Flashed yelled

                “I’m just a volunteer, your still in first.”  The bucket list item “win a race” was about to be checked off.  I felt my confidence surge.  After 30 years of competitive running I was finally going to do it!  I hit the turn around and started to go back down the hill when I saw him.  He was going up the hill and gaining fast- a kid I had noticed but not given a chance.   Before I knew it he was next to me and then past as if I weren’t trying at all.   Years of frustration screamed. I put in a burst.  With a little more than a mile to go,  I had to make a move, the one that I will tell everyone about.  The one that fixes the bucket.

                There is fast and there is  “faster than you have been in a long time old man” fast.  The red costume of The Flash got further and further ahead, now with a new pursuer.  I came to a juncture and couldn’t see anyone.  Now not only was I not winning -I was lost.  The Green Lantern approached pushing a stroller.

                “Which way?  WHICH WAY?”  I was yelling.  He looked at me like I was a crazy person.  At that moment he was right. 

                “Which way did The Flash go? “  They were all super heros, they had to keep track of each other, didn’t they?

                “I think there…”  he stammered. 

                “YOU THINK?”  Didn’t he see the crisis that was unfolding? 

                I started off in the direction he was pointing.  He was happy to be rid of me. 

                I ran alone the rest of the way, recognizing the back track of the course, hearing the music of the finish line grow (the theme from Rocky, of course).  I heard no other footsteps behind.  I was securely in second, now just running for time.  There was always a goal. 

                “Our second place finisher”  a man announced over the megaphone.  I beat the time I wanted. 

                I saw the kid.

                “Nice race.”

                “Thanks.”  He smiled.  “I caught The Flash.  I chased and caught him.  I can’t believe I won.”

                His dream had elbowed my dream out of the way. I realized with a smile, how quickly his bucket will fill up with goals.

                “What was your time?”  He had beaten me by a minute and a half on the second part of the race.  There is fast and there is just better. 

                “So what High School do you go to?

                “Um, I’m in eighth grade”

                “Of course you are”   I laughed.  The kid was starting to look uncomfortable. I saw The Flash and waved him over. 

                “Let’s get a picture.”

                The goofiness of it made it to facebook of course, thanks to my wife.  Maybe the next race I will look for should feature Thor, the god of Thunder, I mean, how fast could he be carrying that hammer?  All I need is a plan…

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