The Secret Race
Speeding by a stranger reignites a runner’s competitive nature
IKE GUY AND I RAN shoulder to shoulder, neither of us giving an inch. When he surged, I caught up. By the last quarter mile we were in a sprint for the intersection at the end
of the path. I got there first. Chest heaving, I put my hands
on my knees and considered throwing up. I looked up to
say “Nice job” to this stranger, but he looked away. We stood in silence
until the stoplight turned, then jogged off in opposite directions.
Ever since I ran my first fun run at age
6, I’ve loved racing. Few things motivate
me like working hard to catch and pass
other runners. I ran cross-country and
track in high school and road races
throughout my 20s. But after having two
kids in less than two years, just getting
out the door for a quick workout became
an accomplishment. I had assumed the
competitive part of me had died. But she
was only resting.
The guy’s lack of acknowledgement after
our bout did little to quell my excitement:
“I just won a race!” I yelled to my husband, bursting through the front door.
The experience reminded me of the
competitor I used to be, of how fun it was
to run hard. Could such a duel happen
again? I started to experiment. I’d pick a
runner and speed up to pass, hoping he or
she would take the bait. The most frequent takers were fit, middle-aged guys
with nice running clothes and big watches. We’d duke it out to the stoplight,
where I always offered a smile. But they
never said a word, and I started to wonder
if these battles existed only in my head,
the result of new-mom sleep deprivation.
“Oh, they’re racing you,” my husband
assured me one night as I was question-
ing my mental health. “No guy wants to
be passed by a girl.”
One night, I bounded out the door feel-
ing especially cocky. I quickly spotted my
mark. He was young and wore an iPod
and a shirt from the local college. I zipped
past him, glancing back with my unspo-
ken invitation. He accepted. For the next
three miles, I could see his nose out of the
corner of my eye. He seemed unaffected
by the pace, which was fast for me. His
breathing was measured.
I am in over my head. But I had to finish.
I sped up. He hung on. My legs were burning and my side was killing me. I could
see the end of the path. With a quarter
mile to go, he made his move. He blew
past me with a look and a grin. I laughed,
relieved that I could slow down. I jogged
to the stoplight expecting the usual silence. Instead, I got a high five.
“That was awesome!” he said. “Do you
“Yes,” I replied through gasps for air.
“Yes, I do.”
Illustration by KIM ROSEN
Kelly Kearsley is a freelance writer based in