by Dante Zappala

I started running when I was 13 and only now have I mastered pre-race preparation. This was no feat of genius but one of fortunate timing.

The 4th of July fell on a weekend, just a few days before Germantown Academy’s All-Comers meet where I planned to race the 3,000 meters. I started the 4th on a miserable note. I made the poor choice to workout instead of going to the Water Tower. I ran so poorly that I pulled the plug not even half way through, probably at the exact moment that my kid was getting DQ’ed from the crab race.

It marked the culmination of a pretty bad training cycle. I’ve felt like a bystander as my interval times have ballooned over the past month. In an effort to get fast, I’ve gotten remarkably slower.

Three days out from this race, I was already looking to the fall and another marathon.

Brewer’s Outlet made the giving up much easier. They had Jack’s Abby Smoke and Dagger for $40 a case. I acquired a taste for smoked beer on several visits to Bamberg, Germany. Upper Franconia has been the regional home of this variety for over 700 years. Schlenkerla is the gold standard, first brewed in the 15th century. A case of it here is hard to find and will run you $100. But recently, the flavor has caught on at domestic breweries. Iron Hill and Earth, Bread and Brewery each made respectable versions of it this winter. And there it was at Brewer’s, begging to come to my barbeque that evening.

Sunday wasn’t much better. I ran an easy 8 in the morning before landing at another cookout with Southern food no less. All one can do in this situation is eat a bit of everything: chicken, burger, ribs, baked beans, potato salad, peach cobbler AND cherry pie.

Monday I decided I’d had enough and I was taking the day off from running. It was my little brother’s birthday and he came over for dinner and cake. We gorged on saag paneer and chana masala from Jyoti. Just before we cut the Oreo ice cream cake, it dawned on me that I also had Oreo ice cream in the freezer; the perfect pairing for a 37th birthday. We toasted our older brother with a shot of Malibu and called it a night.

I spent Tuesday on my feet at work. Outside of a little leftover saag, I barely ate or hydrated, despite the fact that the race would not go off until after 8 at night and it would still be 150 percent humidity. I was basically on a mission to do everything wrong at this point.

My kids ran a few of the earlier races that night, which allowed me to spend two hours baking in the sun on the infield before I inexplicably did a four-mile warm up.

Finally, the gun went off.

A kid from Shippensburg took the pace out, clicking off 75-second laps like a metronome. I zeroed in on the back of his vest and stopped thinking. Seven and a half laps later, I had run exactly what I thought I was capable of running two months ago when I started down this road.

Before the holiday weekend, I had done everything “right.” The workouts were well thought out. I was sleeping more and generally eating better. I actually lost a few pounds in what I thought was a healthy way. Yet it all seemed to take me in the wrong direction.

Somewhere in the gluttony of the days before the race, I had found the magnet that brought the hard work and sacrifice together the way I intended. It took out of control spending to experience the payoff of being thrifty.

Doing everything right never guarantees that everything will go right. Failure is like water. It finds a level. Maybe it is our fault, something we did wrong, or a personal fault that is out of our control. Or maybe it’s the world’s fault.  Either way, outcomes are never certain.

How we react to this reality is more important. I was beginning to panic. A fast time in one race relieved my fears and validated my efforts. That approach is an absolute recipe for disaster. At no time did I search for empirical solutions or display patience and confidence. I got lucky and I feel good about myself again.

As I age and inevitably my body slows me down, these are good truths to face. At the very least, I’ve found some good beer to drink while I think it over.