I could have come home from France with a trophy. And not just any old trophy, but one big enough to impress running friends with rooms full of trophies. I would have put it on top of the bookcase, a few feet from my front door. Whenever visitors commented on it, I would have told them all about the 5K race I won in France. Oh, who am I kidding? I would have told everyone I knew, whether they saw the trophy or not. Because I didn’t get the trophy, I got an even better story to tell.
It all started on a June morning in Bordeaux, where I’d arrived on vacation the previous day with my husband and son. I had just started an easy run when I happened upon a cluster of white canopies that looked like the staging area for a race. My French barely stretches beyond such basic tourist phrases as “I’ll have a ham sandwich” and “Do you have a map?”, but I somehow gathered from a race volunteer that there would be a 5K that evening. I dashed back to the hotel for my entry fee.
As I waited for the starting gun nine hours later, I scanned the other women. No anorexics. Good. No man legs. Good. No 16-year-olds. Excellent.
I lined up a couple rows from the starting line. Only one woman was in front of me, and she obviously didn’t belong there. She looked about 22, with long, wavy, brown hair. It was the chunky body she tried to hide under a baggy, white t-shirt that made me realize she should have lined up with the slow runners in back. I figured she was just going along with the handsome guy I saw whispering in her ear.
Soon as the gun sounded, she took off like she was going for gold in the Olympic 400. Let her go, I told myself; she can’t keep up that pace. Sure enough, she sprinted roughly 400 meters before slowing to a crawl. Lucky for me, we had another 4,600 to go.
The course looped through the center of town, past a dozen sidewalk cafés. I tried to put on my serious runner face, but couldn’t help smiling every time I heard a diner clap or shout “premier” as I raced by. When I rounded the last corner, I saw the crowd at the finish. Never had so many people seen me win a race. I listened for the announcer to call out my name, but didn’t hear it. The crowd also seemed oddly unimpressed by my win. Only my husband congratulated me — on finishing second.
I figured whoever won looked enough like a guy to fool me and the café crowd. Then my son told me she was a “real pork chop.” My husband said he’d never seen such a chubby winner. I asked if she was in her early 20s. They said yes. Was she wearing a white t-shirt? Yes. Did she have long, wavy, brown hair? Yes again. Could they point her out to me? Sure, if they could find her.
I didn’t know enough French to file a complaint. But, so what? At least I’d get the master’s trophy for being the first finisher over 40. That trophy’s usually big as the overall one, anyway.
When an hour went by without any sign of the usual awards ceremony, I asked a race official when the awards would be given out. There were no more awards, he said. Only the overall winner got a prize.
I wanted to scream, “That pork chop cut the course!” But the closest I could have come was, “That ham sandwich had a map!” So I kept my mouth shut. The race official must have thought the sullen American just wanted a race souvenir. He handed me the sort of gold, plastic medal given to participants in the children’s race.
Years after that 5K, I sometimes think about the big trophy I should have won. Sure I’ve got a great story instead. But Pork Chop’s got the big trophy and a juicier story.
I wonder, though, if she dares put her prize on display, inviting every visitor to ask how she won a race. Does she ever have the pleasure of revealing the details of her back-alley romp? Nah, I think, fat chance.