Tiger Woods, I read somewhere, trains with 50 pounds of weights strapped to his chest and back. Tiger was just 41 last December 30; I was 67 on Saturday. A quarter of a century makes a big difference.
They do say, however, that age is just a number. But if you’re talking about my age now, the 214 on my chest as I crossed the finish line behind the almost 400 entrants in the 7th Edition of the COSTAATT “Run for Life 5K” on Sunday morning was just about right.
A 5K? Ha! If that was a 5K, nobody except Forrest Gump could ever possibly run a marathon unless you give them a week. And even then…
So let me put event organisers Ian Carter and Nigel Ramah and any other COSTAATT official responsible on notice to expect a pre-action protocol letter or some other document from my lawyers. This foolishness about people getting away with false advertising has to stop!
I know I wasn’t the oldest man in the event thanks to the 77-year-old David Hoyte, whom I met on my way to my car after the race, already showered and changed back into street clothes like my daughter and her Jamaican friend, who had warmed down, changed back into mufti, had had breakfast—which they had time to make themselves—and driven once around the Savannah looking for us. Well, they hadn’t really done all that but they could have.
And the youngest person in the event might have been the 10-year-old boy who looked like a young Keith Smith and whom at around 6.30am I had just approached a half a second before the horn sounded to start the event and who sped off like a drag racer before I could get his name and whom I never saw again because he was probably home in bed by the time I got back to the finish line, just my bad luck.
So after the horn, my wife—whoever thought I would use those two words cheek by jowl? Thank God for commas!—and I took off behind my daughter and her friend both of whom waved at us with a smile and left me wondering why. I never got the answer until much later when we met up with them, as I have already described, and they explained their action.
I was thinking, “Relax, Best. This isn’t your first marathon,” which I had completed —Hahahahahahahahahaha! What loose use of language! — in the early-to-mid Eighties when I had only three children and one wife and cartilage in both knees and 50 pounds of bodyweight less to tote from Freeport to Maraval Road where dozens of my students—pre-warned to “look for me Sunday morning”—were waiting to congratulate me as I took my triumphant last step mere minutes at worst behind the winner.
But we’ll get back to that story later—if I survive—because I am writing this on life support and I’m really not sure how long my last breath will last.
I actually ran all the way from Melville Lane to Albion Street before I had to slow to a walk. I didn’t actually count but I estimate that half of the nearly 400 field started ahead of me. No matter. The race, I know, is not for the swift but for he who endureth to the last. And, as you are about to discover if you’re still reading, I am that incarnate.
Nigel Ramah coaches football so he can tell a Mr Endureth-to-the-last from a mile away with his eyes closed.
“Ah go meet yuh just now, Best,” he shouted mockingly at me as, at the top of Frederick Street, I went by him and onto to the Savannah circuit.
“Yuh buy ah new sports car or what?” I shot back, roast already but still rude. I should have saved my breath. It wasn’t long before I needed it.
I think we were just passing Marli Street in front of the US Embassy when the first mother-with-baby-in-pram went by us. I had been trying in vain to get out of first gear but there was clearly something wrong with my transmission.
The QRC clock showed almost 7 o’ clock when we eventually got to the College. I was surprised not to see the spotlights on the Main Building because I didn’t think it was still morning; it didn’t feel like it.
“I think … I’m slightly… challenged,” I confessed to my wife.
He’s challenged,” she retorted scornfully, pointing to Justin with the visibly shortened left leg who happened to be some 20 or 30 metres ahead of us, just ahead of Mother-with-baby-in-pram #2. “You’re disabled!”
Wives are so gentle…or can be sometimes. So I let that pass, just as I had let the 150 or so others who had started behind me pass within the first 200 metres perhaps. I knew I needed every bit of air I could muster.
In front of Mille Fleurs, a motorcycle policeman whistled past me at 5kph. I would have screamed for help if I could. But air was in short supply already.
In 1984 too, I had wanted to scream for air. After the 5am start, I was fine, tripping along gaily in the pre-dawn cool and darkness, enjoying the quaint, rural beauty of Chaguanas and environs.
And then the sun came up. Down I went. For the count.
The good Samaritan who eventually responded to the silent signal of my arm extended just below the level of the shoulder and waved up and down, keeping the palms always below shoulder level, had to get out of his pick-up to help me. All alone, I contrived to get one leg up in the tray but, try as I did, I couldn’t get the second one to follow. My battery was so dead, it just couldn’t be charged back to life. Not easily.
I slept all the way to Port-of-Spain. And went on sleeping in the tray even after the pick-up pulled into the Savannah near Whitehall. I didn’t hear the end of it for months afterwards.
“Sir,” they taunted me until the end of the school year, “Granny beat yuh!”
Granny didn’t beat me on Sunday, though. I checked the listings to see whether she was entered and, certain that she hadn’t, I said to the missus, ‘Yes, we can.’
So we got as far as the Ministry of Agriculture. “Look,” my wife encouraged me, “we’re approaching the zoo lights already.”
“I…hope…they…red,” I eventually managed to get out.
Three or four mothers-with-babies-in prams-gone-by later, we came up to the area opposite the upside-down hotel from where you can access the Savannah. Sitting sedately on the gate was a man wearing a Hilton Hotel tee-shirt. I must have been hallucinating already because my wife was praying aloud for me. I swore the man was St Peter—complete with halo—and we were at the pearly gates.
Somehow, I managed to make it back to Dere Street. I have no recollection of anything between the Hilton and there except one comment. Just as you round the last corner after the Pelham Street lights, the paved Savannah walkway begins to slope gently upwards.
I told Mrs Best that I wasn’t inclined to go up any hills, walking or running.
“You stop,” she responded instantly, ever so sweetly, “and I leaving your ass.”
I did warn you, didn’t I? Wives can be so gentle sometimes…
I wanted to enquire whether that would be temporarily or permanently. Good sense prevailed. That was neither politic—Think about the children, dear!—nor possible: air!
Thereafter—and for some time therebefore—it was all a blur. Frederick Street, NAPA. Carenage, Diego Martin, The Grand Stand. The Larry Gomes Stadium. Chancery Lane. The San Fernando Hill. Dundonald Street. Belgrove’s Crematorium. The Hyatt. Balandra Beach. QRC again. Tunapuna EC School. The whole film of my life. Somebody’s funeral, probably mine.
And at last! Dere Street and COSTAATT in the background.
About half an hour later, I crossed the finish line.
The girl put the medal around my neck.
“Tiger Woods,” I gasped.
I fell into my wife’s arms.
COSTAATT, please. Shorten the race. Next year.
How about a real 5K?
Or a 1K?
Or a 100m?
Editor’s note: Mr Best is probably still hallucinating. He finished 150th out of 172 men and 244th out of 366 entrants.