We are instructed to safety pin our racing bibs to the front of our shirts although there are several renegades in the group who ignore this directive. All you need to know about me is on that bib; my name, sex, age and t-shirt size. It’s critical to start the race at a sensible pace, avoiding the temptation to run alongside the cool kids who are real runners. I’m just a baker who likes to get outside and see the light of day. Tucked inside the miniscule pocket of my shorts is the tiniest zip-lock bag of gummy bears for sustenance.
The woman to my left feels the need to run this race attired in a star-sequined tutu.
Who am I to judge? The late, great Vergiu Cornea who taught ballet at Ithaca College would never have allowed that tutu in his class. It’s blindingly distracting and it is all I can see in my peripheral vision. It does however, provide the incentive necessary to run as far away from the Sugar Plum Fairy as possible. The race begins, then stops; a false start and we tumble into each other. Another deafening siren fills the air and we’re off.
Winding through downtown, dodging broken pavement and dangerous puddles the course loops along Cayuga Lake. There’s a parade of ducklings crossing from the edge of the shoreline towards the pavement. “Make Way!” seems an understatement; bibs a blowin’ and knees a crackin’ the parade of runners thunders past.
Cayuga Heights road is where it all turns downhill for many as the course winds up, up, up hill leveling off at Cornell. I’ve lost Miss Sugar Plum but working my way up the hills I have a new best friend who apparently is an IC alum. She is an incessant talker, the running version of a cell phone over sharer. Miss IC feels the need to regale me with not only a history of the races she’s run, but her running times as well. When she takes a breath she wants to know if I attended either of the two Ithaca schools of higher learning. “Yup,” is my reply, knowing where this is leading. “What year did you graduate?” she inquires and when I tell her she takes a long drink from one of the three water bottles strapped to her waist and says, “Really? That’s the year I was born.” Suddenly Miss Sugar Plum seems like a preferred running buddy.
What sounds like small branches cracking underfoot could very well be the sound of my knees. Approaching the 6 mile water station, Miss IC is to the right of me making a call on her cell phone. She then instructs someone on the other end of the line to “Twist off the cap of the Gatorade and just hand it to me.” Whoa. This woman means business. I’m distracted by the half guzzled paper cup of Gatorade that is tossed over the shoulder by the young guy in front of me. It approaches with the precision of an off course electrolyte torpedo.
The remaining miles are a blur, with race officials on bicycles warning that the next stretch of hill features ‘false flats’ which simply means it’s all hill. Until it’s finally downhill, back through the park, edging the lake, hugging the traffic.
And then it’s over and there she is, clearly crossing the finish line ahead of me, Miss Sugar Plum Fairy. Her tutu is as fresh as it was at the start of the race. A good bit behind me is the guy who decked me with his Gatorade cup, which in my non-competitive sensibility is strangely rewarding. The race has provided good eats for we runners; tables of locally made yogurt, slices of ruby watermelon and handfuls of sweet local strawberries. There’s also a restaurant grilling up barbeque and early corn to enjoy while you wait for the beer tent to open at noon. Oh looky there- guess who’s at the front of the line at the beer tent? Miss IC waves and I nod. “Good race,” she says. “Yup,” I reply.
An hour later at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market, I’m eyeing the same local strawberries and bunches of rhubarb, which you might say I am stalking. There are also several bakeries on hand with the most exquisite breads and sweets. A fruit stuffed biscuit-y breakfast-y item seems to be extremely popular, but by the time I make my way to purchase one, the bakery has sold out. Of course they have, it’s Ithaca, everybody likes to get sconed.
At 8:00 am on Monday morning, I’m back in the bakery where the phone is ringing and the commuters are clamoring for cold brew. There’s a missing cake order and someone wants a strawberry rhubarb pie by the end of the day. And then I remember why I run. It was summed up succinctly at Sunday’s race by a leggy woman sporting a black headband. It simply said, “Cheaper than therapy.”