The spirit of the Olympics, it is said, is to compete honorably and do the best you can.
It is too late for me to compete in the current Olympiad, but I did enter a 5K fun run at the Polk County Fair a couple of weeks ago.
Five kilometers is about three-and-a-quarter miles. It is small peanuts compared to the twenty-six miles of a marathon. But for a 48-year-old, it is still a decent challenge.
I couldn't sleep the night before. Other than darts and shooting pool, I hadn't entered an athletic competition since college. And I hadn't ran a race since I finished last in the 100-yard dash in fifth grade.
I dreamt of glory. I would run at a measured pace until the finish line was in view far ahead. At that point, I would kick in the afterburners, roar pass shocked runners half my age and vault across the finish line.
I wouldn't be in first place, but I hoped to finish in the top half.
The morning of the race was steamy and hot. I drank lots of florescent fluids. I took a multi-vitamin. I ingested an energy bar. The last thing I wanted was to come up lame, so I stretched and stretched.
After a brief convocation at the starting line, an aerosol horn went off and the one hundred or so runners hit the pavement.
Oh, was it hot. Our town needs more trees! Every pool of shade provided brief but welcome relief. Five residents set out sprinklers on the street. I ran through every one.
The route circled through the east side of town. Eventually, the runners ahead doubled around and came down the opposite side of the street towards me.
I was then forced to acknowledge that I was not going to finish even close to the front. Far ahead of me were three people over sixty as well as one ten-year-old.
However, spirit of comity prevailed. People cheered for each other. The front runner encouraged those of us behind him.
Up front fifty yards was an older gentleman who ran as if he was going to fall forward face-first into the pavement at any moment. I debated whether to stop and help him when he finally had his heart attack.
I eventually decided that since I didn't know CPR, it would be useless to stop. I would just hurdle his writhing body and plow on.
As if to read my mind, the man put on a burst of speed and left me in the dust.
Eventually, everybody disappeared. I was running alone.
When the finish line came into view, there was nobody to pass. I tried to put on a little burst of speed, but didn't have much left in the tank.
I finished in the middle of the pack with a time of 26:07. I had done the best I could. I silently relished finishing ahead of some former high school athletes I used to wash towels for as student manager. Take that, jocks! It took thirty years, but I finally got you back for using four towels each.
I was elated. It felt good to finish a race, any race, and to finish in the middle of the pack, not at the end, as I had all my childhood.
It wasn't until I got home that I realized that my time would forever be tainted by a dark fact that I hadn't even admitted to myself up to that point.
I was on steroids.
Yes, two days earlier the doctor had put me on a six-day course of steroids to ease swelling caused by allergies.
Did the drugs make a difference?
Well, the first day I took them I felt like running for president. The second day, I got more done than I had in a week.
The third day, I ran the 5K race. After the race, I went home, spiffed up the yard, polished up the house and hosted my 30-year class reunion until late into the evening.
Even then, I didn't feel like sleeping.
I am sure I could have hit a baseball 460 feet, too. Just like Barry Bonds. Or Mark McGuire.
So, although nobody cares in the least, my time of 26 minutes and 7 seconds has an asterisk next to it in my mental record book.
In a violation of the Olympic spirit, I hadn't competed honorably.
I now have a reason run the race again next year: Let's see if I can finish without the aid of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).