Jogging Author Gets Passed by a Nun

We crested the hill, huffing and puffing like big bad wolves, or more precisely, two sagging fifty-something runners with tortured eyes glued to our plodding, pricey running shoes. We commenced slogging together at the mile-one mark.

Small talk had long since expired. The last blessed stretch of the five-kilometer road race (3.1 miles) was a steady decline. If we were going to pick up the pace, the moment was at hand. As we mounted our final assault on the unforgiving hands of time, the apparition appeared on our left — an ethereal gossamer whoosh of stunning whiteness that interrupted our self-absorbed misery. Then the specter was ahead of us, moving with unnatural lightness and, yes, grace.

“Is that a nun?” my companion asked. He answered his own question with an expletive that in days of yore would have earned him a healthy whack on his wrist with a ruler. His spirit broken, he faded from my ken.

I willed my legs onward, thinking gravity would be my copilot on the downslope. The nun, now dead ahead in her glorious and billowing white habit, maybe weighed 90 pounds, less than half my poundage. Victory or eternal stigmata, I vowed, no other outcomes were possible. But when I realized that she was wearing shinny black nun shoes, too — and getting smaller with each stride — I soon lost hope as well.

Once you’ve been smoked by a nun, you’re ready for anything the 5K circuit can throw at you: Kristy Alley look-a-likes, mothers pushing strollers (single or twin), wizened and bare-footed septuagenarians, asthmatic men with prominent love handles. One hefty gentleman once beat my time despite making two abrupt pit stops necessitated by gastrointestinal issues. I could see him hunkered down in the bushes as I labored by him. Soon enough he would flash past me towards his next date with biological destiny. One more attack and he would have been toast.

Nowadays 5Ks are ubiquitous. I can find one, sometimes several, every weekend in southeastern Connecticut, summer or winter. Taking irony to a new level, organizers often tout these events as “fun runs,” rather than exercises in extreme physical and mental duress. Before each race I warily eye the field to identify competitors who must never ever under any circumstances be allowed to pass me — lest I forfeit my last soupçon of self-respect. Then the gun sounds and I’m watching the receding hindquarters of a woman who isn’t letting all that cellulite slow her down any.

I must confess, though, I have my moments. In a recent race, a young girl, no older than a decade, pulled even with me as I lumbered toward the finish line. Like me, she was in acute distress, wobbling and groaning with each footfall. At this stage in my sorry running career, I have no illusions. I assumed she would eventually pass me, compounding my physical agony with ineffable ignominy. At such moments — and there are half a dozen in each race — I vow never to stride again.

Still, I wasn’t going down without a fight. If Suzy Q wanted to pass this cholesterol-ridden relic, she would have to pay for the privilege. I picked up the pace to what could loosely be interpreted as a “finishing kick.” She whimpered but stayed with me. I could sense what she was thinking. She had taken the trouble to chase me down, and now I wasn’t playing fair and letting her by so she could assuage thirty minutes of self-inflicted torture with a glorious denouement.

“Sorry, darling,” I replied telepathically, “I wish I could help you out, but I can’t. In another 50 years you’ll understand.” When I heard her sobbing I knew I had her. I feasted on her manifest misery, lifting my head and lengthening my stride. All right, it wasn’t pretty, but at my age you have to take your victories where you find them.

I haven’t seen my holy nemesis since that traumatic contest nearly a decade ago, which raised money for a local parish. I pointedly have avoided that annual race. But my times are actually coming down lately and this has me mulling over the possibility of a rematch come spring. If I do return, I’ll be wearing black.

Watch your back, sister.