GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND -- I have just finished running in the Bahamas Princess 10 K (6.2 miles), and have a genuine imitation bronze medal hanging around my neck -- just like Greta Waitz, Sebastian Coe, Switzerland's Marcus Ryffel (the overall winner), Bertis Gray, and the top woman runner Bobby Rothman.
That is the longest distance I have run, except in a bad dream, since I was in my thirties. But the accomplishment was still sweeter than double-fudge cake. I am injured, however. More on that and the race in a minute, but first an update on the Conch Man Mini-triathlon.
If all of you stick with your training, the ocean will rise on November 26, 1988: More than 500 people, making up about 325 Conch Out trams, have started their training program for our one-mile swim, four-mile run and 10-mile bike. Some people are doing all three events; some only one. And the Conch Outs (our official name) are a veritable melting pot of potential hunks and hunkettes: policemen, lawyers, dentists, photographers, doctors, government types, writers, teachers, teen-agers, retirees and dozens of families (including one family of 12 training together).
One man is training long-distance with his partner in Egypt (both will be in the Bahamas for the event). A 70-year-old lady is training with her 50-year-old daughter (they already walk 1,000 miles a year together along the C & O Canal towpath). Many handicapped people, others just recovering from surgery, and some recovering from the loss of a person they loved are training.
Enough self-styled "couch potatoes" are training to make the world's largest vichyssoise. Dozens more are training even though they can't make it to the Bahamas, and plan to have their own private events (One lady asked what time ours will start so she can start then, too). And I know for sure at least 55 people are being "nudged" to join a training team -- the only nagging I know that could be good for you.
I am both excited and terrified about this good news. And if you think I'm terrified, you should talk to my housekeeper. But don't worry. Dinner will be served and food will flow like good Bahamian punch, thanks to my friends. As I promised, all of you who wrote will receive a newsletter starting sometime this month, and all of your questions will be answered. And each month, a column sidebar (like the one to the right), will tackle some questions.
But, for now, keep on keeping on, and let me tell you about the Princess 10 K as an inspiration to us ordinary mortals. From eight countries, 288 men, women, children and one dog started the race. And every living creature finished it. As thin as a sea oat, Marcus Ryffel from Switzerland ran the 6.2 miles in 28 minutes and 34 seconds. Wendy Sly from the United Kingdom wasn't far behind him at 32 minutes and 42 seconds, and close on their heels was Dearborn Rigby of the Bahamas. Dearborn is 11 years old and shorter than a sea oat.
When the race started, I was less than 20 feet behind these champions, and for at least 15 seconds, I think I held that place. The first 15 seconds of a race are easy, believe me, and dreams of an upset victory come even easier. I remember the movie "National Velvet."
But at about 20 seconds, the real world came to visit. Though I was moving at what seemed like a fine pace, people passed me like the hare passing the tortoise. For quite some time, that thought gave me comfort. "They'll burn out," I told Eric Jensen, my intern for the year and newly appointed coordinator of the Conch Outs. Eric's father, you may remember, is Dr. Arno Jensen of the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Eric's father has the body of a 30-year-old (though he's 60), and Eric himself eats triathletes for breakfast. He had kindly agreed to pace me. Eric nodded as the rabbits raced past us.
But as the minutes went by, people weren't burning out at all. I know because I kept looking back. At the two-mile mark, hundreds were behind us. At the four-mile mark dozens were behind us. At the five-mile mark, I could see seven people and the dog in the rear and not a soul in the front. Eric, to break the boredom, would run small circles around me. I thought about tripping him a time or two.
I finished number 280 in a field of 288. But do you know what? God, did it feel good. And then I met the champions. At first, I was excited about being in pictures with the world champions who bring glamor to an event like this, and planned to run one of those pictures with this column. But then I started talking with people like the lady who finished 277th, Becky James, a waitress at the Princess Patio restaurant. A 51-year-old Bahamian, Becky started running five years ago "when my daughter was dying, because I couldn't bear the suffering all the time," she said. "I ran by myself to put my mind at ease." Becky still runs by herself, and when she finally passed me at the six-mile marker in the race, she turned to me and said "Honey, you're a winner, 'cause you tried."
And then, about an hour after I finished, after all the ceremonies were over, after the steel band had stopped, one more runner, moving at a stately, measured pace, came over the final hill. Bertis Gray, 62, supervisor of the Princess Hotels' landscape nursery, approached the finish line. About a dozen of his grandchildren lined the finish, along with the rest of us, and pretty soon everybody was chanting "Let's go, papa! Let's go, papa!"
The last time Bertis had jogged was in 1945 when he was stationed with the Royal Air Force in Nassau. But Bertis wanted to show something, he says, to the young people. "So many young people don't take the opportunity to see how much endurance they have in their limbs," he said. "I knew I would get sore, but I knew I'd shake it out of my limbs, too," he said as he stood at the finish line gasping.
That's when I decided Bertis was the real hero of this race. And that's why I've recruited him for the Conch Man, too, and was proud to be photographed with him. He's on my team.
That is, if I recover from my injury. Doc says the crick in my neck will go away if I won't look back so often to see who's gaining on me.
A last chance offer. It's not too late to join the Conch Outs. Write me this week and I'll set a place for dinner, put you or your team on the training newsletter mailing list, and send you a copy of the Conch Out training calendar that appeared in the Jan. 18th Washington Post. Remar Sutton, P.O. Box 77033, Atlanta, Ga. 30357