• Friendly competition
    September 09,2013

    I was walking out of a store with a friend recently when I asked to see his receipt to determine which of us saved the most money with our purchases. “You are so competitive,” he said as I did a victory dance for taking advantage of more sales. “That is simply not true,” I replied before challenging him to race across the parking lot to the car. I beat him by two steps.

    Later that day I was at home arranging my sock drawer to match the order of the color spectrum, when the phone rang. It was one of the organizers for the Northfield Labor Day Observances foot race looking for someone to lead the runners by biking the course ahead of them.

    I was flattered to be asked. Just a few years ago I started road biking.

    Road biking is just like regular biking except you spend hundreds of extra dollars accessorizing. For example, you get special pedals, biking shoes, and jerseys. And you get a chamois, which is just a fancy word for padded shorts that you wear to give the appearance that you are hiding a stuffed Teddy bear between your legs. These shorts are necessary because after you ride a great distance, like 50 yards, you begin to notice that the seat on a road bike is like sitting on the handle of an ax; only not quite as comfortable. Anyway, once properly equipped, I began logging many miles of rides in the area.

    It was obvious by the unsolicited phone call that my reputation as an elite, over-accessorized cyclist was getting around. It went something like this:

    Caller: Hi, Mark, would you like to help us out by leading the runners during our annual race tomorrow?

    Me: So, you heard about my biking exploits in central Vermont?

    Caller: Actually, the guy who usually does it can’t so we took a Northfield phone book and started to make some calls. You are the first person whose last name starts with an “A” who has a bike.

    My ego was bruised, but I quickly recovered.

    Me: Let me check my schedule.

    I rattled some papers around for effect.

    Me: Yes, I can help. But I have some demands for my services. I want a limo to pick me up at my house, M&Ms in my dressing room, chilled spring water available for the ride, half my fee paid prior to the race with the other half delivered in cash at the completion …

    Caller: We’ll give you a race T-shirt.

    Me: Deal. What time do you need me?

    At this point I should note that I have never engaged in a biking event where I finished first. This summer I competed in a triathlon, but by the time I got out of the water from the swimming portion of the race and onto my bike, the rest of the competitors were done both biking and running, had collected their finishers’ medals, and were home enjoying their beers in front of the TV.

    Another biking event I took part in was the 119-mile Point to Point ride last month to help raise funds for the Vermont Food Bank. Not only did hundreds of other cyclists conclude the ride before me, Ernest Shackleton made his Trans-Antarctic Expedition in less time that it took me to reach the finish line. But I digress.

    On the day of the foot race I arrived early to check out the competition. The event was a 3K race being run by scores of kids under the age of 13. But these weren’t your lethargic, videogame-playing little schoolchildren. No, these were lean, mean prepubescent running machines. Tiny thoroughbreds just aching to sprint the distance.

    I positioned myself approximately 50 yards ahead of the field. Once the gun sounded, I was to ride in front of the racers and lead them through the race route.

    When the starter gave the signal to run I went to put my foot in the pedal, slipped, and almost fell over. I looked down the street and saw a wave of kids coming straight at me, and started to panic. If these runners passed me I would become the most disgraced cyclist since Lance Armstrong. I quickly righted the bike, clipped into my pedals and furiously began to pedal.

    But the damage was done. They were already nipping at my heels. As they ran I pedaled furiously, and remained slightly ahead. My calves screamed and my lungs burned. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, I saw the finish line in the distance. I found a reserve of strength and sprinted to the end.

    Sure, the official results will tell you that Liam Mearrs of Montpelier won the race. But we all know who actually crossed the finish line first...

    Mark S. Albury lives in Northfield Falls.

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