The workhorse of the first Gulf War was the F-111, a fighter jet that had been converted into a precision bomber. It was one of those planes that could zero in on a space the size of a postage stamp from 10,000 feet and blow everything around it to smithereens. 

It was a screaming, albeit aging, machine. It only had one major handicap. A mechanic at the New Mexico base where they were housed told me if an F-111 left at a level five, five being the best running condition, by the time it returned it was at a level two. They were always scrambling to get it back up to a level five to go back out again.

In a way, this illustration is a metaphor for my athletic prowess. For 40 years, to varying degrees, I have considered myself a runner. Not a jogger or a walker mind you, a runner. There was a day when the night of sleep could not pass fast enough, so eager was I to rise and hit the road in a skimpy pair of shorts, shirt and expensive running shoes to blast out five or more miles. 

That day is gone. 

Today, running involves much willpower just to get out the front door and more pre-run maintenance than an F-111 bomber. Like that storied aircraft, I may go out as a five but by the time the foot pounding is over, my condition has degenerated back down to a level two. 

But I had signed up for Ada’s Fireball Classic and, in fact, had designed a team T-shirt for participating members of our church. Come July 4th, race day, there was no way I could weenie out of it, even though it was obvious my constitution was in nowhere near good enough shape to be trudging twice around the hilly road encircling Wintersmith Park. Even great runners acknowledge it is a tough 3.1-mile course. It and its sister 6.2-mile course aren’t called “A Hill of a Race” for nothing.

It would be good enough just to finish. It didn’t bother me at all that the winner, Josiah Biles, zipped by like a gazelle with its tail on fire to finish both loops well before I had trudged around once. Josiah almost seemed to vanish in a puff of smoke as he flew by, like the roadrunner upon tiring of the coyote tailing him. 

This year’s Fireball Classic forced an attitude adjustment regarding walking. Those in my general vicinity whose strategy combined walking and running also beat me. 

The Air Force finally retired the F-111, and at some point aging runners must face a similar reality. But something happened at this year’s Fireball Classic that has never been in my power to envision. My slow pace was good enough to place third in my gender’s age group.  

It is a small victory but offers enough encouragement not to follow the F-111 into mothballs just yet. At least not yet.