Running scared: In search of a finish line

Running alone in the dark at the Pacific Missile Range Facility was spooky enough. Not entirely convinced I was going the right direction added to my apprehension. And then having some kind of giant rat creature dash across my feet fueled my fears. Still, I did the only thing I could do in this Haunted Neon Nights Fun Run/Walk on Saturday: Keep running.

Because I was in front. I was in first place. I was winning, that is if you can really have a winner in a run where the start is signaled by a man yelling “go,” and where most of the 300 people are in costumes and funny glasses and hats, carrying or wearing glow sticks and walking with groups of friends. They came to goof off, to have fun, to enjoy a rare night Halloween-themed run and post-race party on the base and to be sprayed with neon glow paint. They didn’t come to race. There were only a handful who did, and I was one of them.

About a mile or so into the race, I ran side-by-side with Ian Penner, a cross country runner from Island School, and Haku Barriga of Waimea. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and introductions as we followed a truck with lights and made a left turn toward the first station where folks waited to blast us with glow paint. Got me, they did, right in the left eye. I slowed, trying to peer from my remaining good eye, as Ian charged ahead on a narrow path marked with lights and an occasional ghost. I felt strong, though, so I pushed the pace and a few minutes later, had a lead. The footsteps of Ian and Haku gradually faded. It was about then I realized, “Hey, I can win this thing.”

It had been more than 20 years since I won a race. It was back in the early 90s, I believe, when I placed first in what was called the “Aspirin Rally Run” in Sandpoint, Idaho. I outkicked a high schooler who led me by a few yards of that three-mile race. He might have won, but he went the wrong way and missed a left turn toward the finish line, which happened to be exactly when I bolted by to claim victory. I felt only slightly guilty.

So as I was running at PMRF, I sensed this could be my moment. Victory, again, could be mine. I also began to wonder exactly how far I had left, tough to tell because I had no clue about this course or where I was. I looked to check my watch, but it was covered with paint. I was tiring as I rounded yet another turn and the course seemed to be winding all around to nowhere. Finally, I saw coming up what was certainly the finish line with lights, balloons and streamers and people. I sprinted hard through an enclosed area and stopped. The folks stared at me. Hmmm. Something seemed amiss for this to be the end of a race. No one was really applauding.

“Is this the finish line?” I asked “Am I done?”

No. Not yet, I was told by several people. Go to the street and take a left. You’ll see a right turn in a few blocks, they said.

So as I ran off into the darkness, I heard shouts arise from those behind me. Ian was close. I ran faster into the night. I took the right they mentioned and charged hard down toward lights about a quarter-mile in the distance, right about where we started this thing. There, I thought, is the finish. Must be. I glanced back and saw Ian, about 50 yards behind and cranked it up again. Out of breath, desperate, I dashed past the lights where a man stood, and then I stopped. Finally. But this didn’t really look like the end of a race, either. Hmmm.

“Is this the finish line?” I asked.

Nope, he said.

“Where is it? I asked frantically.

He pointed to my right into more darkness. It’s that way.

Lord, help me.

I started running again, slowly. By now, I was wondering just how many miles I had left. My mind was racing, even if my body wasn’t. I jogged, recovering from two sprints to the finish line already, worrying this was perhaps a five mile fun run. How much longer did I have to go? Where is the stinking finish line? I cursed under my breath that I couldn’t read my watch to see how long I’d been out there. I muttered words no one will ever know. Gotta run. Ian’s going to catch me. Up ahead, I saw red lights. That must be the timer’s clock. As I got closer, I read the letters of that glowing red light: “Shenanigans,” which is the restaurant on the base. I summoned yet one more sprint and entered another station where folks waited to blast runners and walkers with neon glow paint.

“Do you want to be sprayed?” someone said.

“Sure,” I answered. “But is this the finish line?”

Yeah, they assured me it was, just as they shot me with paint. No matter. I was done. I had won. Really. Victory was indeed mine. Thirty seconds later, Ian arrived, followed by Haku. Ian mentioned he, too, found it a bit confusing out there.

“I stopped at least three times thinking it was the finish,” he said.

Nike, I think, made famous the quote, “There is no finish line.”

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