I could have taken home a trophy from France. Not just any trophy, mind you, but one big enough to impress 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. But because I didn’t get the trophy, I got a better story to tell.
My story began on a June morning in the city of Bordeaux, where I had arrived the day before for a road trip along the coast of France and Spain. I had just started an easy run when I happened upon a cluster of white canopies and Fila banners. My French barely stretches beyond such basic tourist phrases as “I’ll have a ham sandwich,” and “Do you have a map?”, but somehow I managed to ascertain from a race volunteer that there would be a 5K at 7:30 that night. 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. 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, I realized I’d read her wrong. 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 he didn’t seem to have it handy. The crowd was oddly quiet, too. 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. Or so I thought. I waited around more than an hour for the awards ceremony to start. Finally, 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 evidently felt sorry for what he thought was a slow-poke tourist desperate for a souvenir, so he handed me a gold, plastic medal that looked like something a Phys-Ed teacher would give a kindergartner.
Four 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.