Learning to Race
Our son is now 20. He has recently begun to run races. The newsletter post for Train 4 Autism, Ventura County, California said, "Featuring Alan Baker." I am thrilled to have permission to copy what Rolf wrote after Alan's fourth race.
Hold on to your Hat!
by Rolf Henriksson, parent
A few weeks back I was given the opportunity to run with a young man named Alan on a 5K run. His mother was looking for a runner to accompany her son on trail run in Ventura County and we connected through Train 4 Autism. I’m always up for a run, especially a trail run, so I was happy to volunteer. There was one condition however, his running partner needed to be fast. Of course, I asked “how fast?” and found I had beaten Alan in another race and I should do fine, but I was still curious how fast.
Later that week I got to chat with his mother. I tried to get a few more specifics about Alan’s pace, but she wasn’t a runner and didn’t have much to add that I didn’t already know. Mary, Alan’s Mom, really was more concerned about him staying focused during the race and not slacking off after the start. I convinced her I could do that and we and we agreed at a time to meet before the start.
I met Alan on race day. I actually remembered him from the previous race we both ran (he was dressed as an acorn and part of the race’s goals was to catch him), but we hadn’t spoken. I knew he had a better frame for running and more than a little youth on his side. In any case, we both had on our T4A shirts, so it was easy to find each other. He was with a small group that included some local politicians and Alan was very happy to have met his first government officials. I later learned Alan has quite an interest in politics and political satire. I also, learned his reward for racing was a Denver omelet, he liked classic rock, and was taking college courses in hopes of becoming a CPA. He proved his expertise with numbers by confirming the day of the week I was born (Friday) from my birth date and amazing memory by also telling me the movie 13 going on 30 opened on my birthday (2004).
This was a small race and the group of runners, including Alan and I, eventually moved up to a chalk line in dirt at the prompting of the race officials. Alan was digging in with his shoes and I had a good idea we’d be starting fast. I did ask Alan if he wanted to stretch, he did, but it was more like when you get out of bed in the morning (very charming). They counted down from ten and as the word “go” was shouted, we took off quick, me trailing Alan. There was little room in the crowd to run abreast as the trail was thin and a young girl fell almost immediately. Alan leaped over (she was okay) without breaking stride, happy with his ability to clear her like a “pole-vaulter” he said with a huge smile. After noting this achievement to me, he sped away as I chased holding my hat for the run to come. Alan was going a sub seven pace for sure, but I could hardly look down at my watch being off-road going so fast. There was no way I was ready to do this for 3.1 miles, but I hoped his mother’s prediction of slowing would soon come true. Luckily an incline came up after a half mile or so and I closed the gap, but as soon as I was along side of Alan, he saw me and immediately sped up leaving me in a desperate chase position again. This sprint didn’t last as long, but when I caught him again Alan sped up again. However, he eventually eased one more time and I learned to follow at a safe distance so I could recover. We finished our first mile at 7:17.
After completing mile 2 still trailing safely behind Alan I was confident I had this race figured out. I knew there was a good hill ahead followed by a downhill. The downhill ended with just a quarter mile to the finish line. So for the first time I passed Alan as he and many of the runners slowed on the trail’s steep incline. I was wondering if that was really the right move, but then I heard his feet pounding and he passed me. “Great, he wasn’t worn out,” I thought. So I passed him again as we crested the hill and kept a fast pace down the steep hill. “Was his downhill footing going to be okay?” Not to worry, he passed me and I followed close seeing his steps were well placed and solid. Finally I took my opportunity to run side by side. As we evened up I could tell he wanted to engage with me. I asked him how he was doing and he started signing “purple haze running through my mind.” Not just the line, but the whole song. I was amazed he wasn’t even a bit out of breathe. He paused his song only to ask if I knew who sang it. I confirmed I knew Jimi Hendrix. So he kept signing as we sped down the hill approaching the last quarter mile. Remembering I had promised Alan give his best effort to his mother I encouraged him to leave me behind, even though I was enjoying his song, and catch a runner ahead. He did so immediately without much effort.
Alan completed the race, running with a smile, and breaking his personal record by more than a minute. He got 3rd place in his age group 20 to 29 and for me? I got a 2nd place in a slightly less competitive group just for keeping up with Alan. I’m sure Alan will be happy to get his medal. It was very nice and engraved, but he didn’t hang around for the award ceremony. His Mom and Dad still owed him a Denver omelet and Alan was off again.