I’ve been told that opportunity only knocks once. The person who shared this cautionary wisdom with me must be wearing earplugs most of the time, because I hear opportunity knocking constantly. In fact, it often knocks the loudest after you missed the first knock on the door.
Case in point – Springfield, Missouri the night of November 1st. It was a bit after 9:00PM and I was checking in to a motel for the night. I was scheduled to talk in St. Louis that evening, but when I had arrived, I discovered that there had been a miscommunication and the talk was actually the following night. Along with my lecture falling through, so did my accommodations. Dejected, I pressed on towards Tulsa, OK where I would be speaking the following evening. As I neared Springfield, my road weary eyes informed me that it was time to stop for the night. The clerk at the hotel was busy helping another guest, so I patiently waited my turn. I noticed that the man being helped was wearing a technical running shirt, running pants and running shoes. Hmmmm, I thought, I bet he’s a runner. “Are you in town for a race?” I asked. “Yep, there’s a half marathon tomorrow morning at 7 at the Bass Pro Shops”, he replied. I hadn’t run at all that day and my legs were feeling very stiff from 11 hours of driving, so I thought that I might enter the race just to get a good workout in.
I slept like a brick. My squinty morning eyes found my watch on the table next to the bed and struggled to see the time in the dim light. It read 6:55. After a moment of sleepy time zone calculations (I was no longer on Eastern Standard Time) and the realization that I had changed my watch back in Indiana, I burst out of bed. “Damn!!!! I’ve missed the race!!” A flurry of clothing, shoes, packing and room double-checking quickly ensued and I was out the door at 7:08. I guzzled some water and scarfed down a banana.
Pulling into the crowded parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops, it was obvious that the race was long since gone. A crew of workers were disassembling the scaffolding and sound systems at the start line, the barricades in the road were being taken away and garbage was being cleaned up. It was 7:32 when I approached one of the workers and asked him which way the race went. “Turn left here, when..” He was quickly cut off by another worker “No, you turn right out of the parking lot, then left on Seminole, right on Howard and then follow the trail.” he countered. After a quick “thanks” I was off running through Springfield, a city that I’ve NEVER been to. For a moment I thought about the possibility of getting totally lost and not being able to find my way back to the car, or worse, taking a wrong turn and turning this into a marathon instead of a half. The focus of my training for the past few months has been on short intense workouts designed to aid me in my stair climbing races. The longest run I’ve done in the past 2 months has been 10 miles… this was going to be an adventure.
The numbness and stiffness in my legs and butt were vocal companions for the first five minutes. Eventually I began to warm up and feel the flow. My worries of getting lost were abated when I passed a large one mile marker on the side of the road. Mile two came a bit quicker as I warmed up even more. The beautiful maple lined streets also aided in the passing of time. I had left Vermont a few days earlier in what seemed like the dead of winter, and I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a vibrant display of fall color here in Missouri. Halfway through the third mile, I could see police lights flickering on the horizon and surmised that they indicated the tail end of the race. Moments later I was cheering on the courageous walkers at the back of the pack who were committed to making it 13.1 miles today come hell or high water.
After mile 3, the course made a right hand turn onto smaller residential streets. A thin stream of walkers snaked into the distance ahead acting like breadcrumbs to guide me through this foreign course. I was moving swiftly. People were surprised when I bolted past them at mid five minute pace. Some jumped or let out audible gasps or screeches of alarm. Not wanting to scare anyone else at this point, I began to cheer people on from behind as I came up on them and gave them a wide berth as I ran past. This was a practice that I had learned running on Venice Beach in Los Angeles several years prior. While running along the bikebath at a good clip I came up to a group of young men dressed in “banger” attire. My silent approach from the rear caught one of them by surprise as I shot past. He jumped and let out a little squeal. His compatriots immediately began laughing and giving him a hard time. This was not to be tolerated, so he took his shame out on me by chasing me and threatening to kill me. Needless to say, I got some great speedwork in that day and learned a great lesson – surprise isn’t wise. Jump back to present day Springfield, MO. The backseat pep talk that I was providing for each group that I passed almost invariably got them to turn their heads to see who it was cheering them on from behind. This connection often solicited a comment from them, either to me or to the person(s) walking next to them. I was not in this “race” to cheer people on, I was merely being courteous. My focus and attention were on keeping a solid pace and having good form. Suddenly, that all changed.
Someone uttered “Powered by raw food?” as I shot by. Apparently they had been reading the back of my shirt. A short distance further my focus was shattered again when “I need to eat more raw food” was stated by a woman speaking to the group she was jogging with. For the next five miles, I heard dozens of comments about the ‘slogan’ on my shirt; “Way to go raw food dude!”, “Raw food!”, “Powered by raw food. Alright!”, “What is raw food?”, etc… It seemed that my courteous greetings from behind and the velocity with which I passed people was getting my shirt a LOT of attention. In fact, it was getting far more attention than it ever had in a race. Normally, I start a race either on the front or second line and will run with no more than 10 different people throughout the race. Therefore, very few people get to see the back of my shirt. But today, after starting half an hour after the official race start, thousands of people had the opportunity to see “Powered by raw food” proudly emblazened on the back of my race singlet. At the 9 mile mark the race looped back on itself for 2 miles, which meant that I’d be running back towards many of the people I had just passed. Many of them offered cheers and comments as I strode by.
It had been my belief up until this point that the best way to get attention was to win the race. I had been terribly mistaken. My placement was somewhere in the mid 500’s but Running Raw was more powerful than ever. What appeared to be a complete disaster in the beginning turned out to be my most influential event to date. I’m crossing my fingers that the seeds of change have found fertile soil in Springfield, MO.