Editor’s Note: This article is about two friends who were racing each other for the first time since college. I am one of the runners. I am Stephen. Tim is the other runner. Tim was very mean to me for the weeks preceding this race in hopes of cracking my spirit, my mana, my mental fortress. I like Tim a lot, but he can be an asshole. Read his journal from our trip to San Diego for the Cardiff Kook 10K Run for more clarity into Tim’s self-destructive personality.
“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”
These are the only words going through my head the days before my debut 10k at the Cardiff Kook Run. For some reason, Michael Corleone’s quote from the 1974 classic, “The Godfather: Part II” seems relevant. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been self-inflating my own confidence through clinically precise and executed Tweets at my good friend and enemy, Stephen Kersh.
You see, I am by no means a “distance runner.” I mean, by default I am. I was at one point running 100 miles plus a week, but in the hopes and dreams of getting super freakin’ fit for a 3,000m steeplechase. I raced 8k cross country at the University of Washington without any spectacular results. Since I completed my fifth year of eligibility at Northern Arizona in the Spring of 2016, I have raced only once. That race was the Abbott Dash to the Finish 5k in November of 2017. That was my first 5k since high school cross country in November of 2010. My point is, I don’t race above 3000 meters often.
So, when my good friend and current enemy, Stephen Kersh, colloquially known as Kersh and begrudgingly known as Steve asked me to accompany him to race the Cardiff Kook 10k I eagerly agreed–because I am a good friend. Immediately, I started to second guess my decision. 10k, TEN THOUSAND METERS! That is 7k longer than my “specialty”. But who knows? I’ve actually been training consistently for the first time in my life, maybe this will be easy. But 10k? That’s 6.2 miles, I don’t think I’ve ever completed a 6-mile tempo in my life.
OH GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?
To compensate, I’ve been ruthlessly trying to break Kersh’s spirits, mainly through a series of tweets and negative comments on our runs. “Hey Kersh, how do you feel? Because you look like trash.” As we laugh, I feel my breathing become labored and my legs getting heavier. Is it the weight of my conscience? Is he rubber and I’m the glue? I’m not sure if my comments have been working as they should, but I did buy him a 6 pack of Stone IPAs earlier in the week to fatten him up. I’m not sure if he had any.
A WEEK BEFORE THE RACE
Kersh and I have had a series of workouts together. Some good, some bad (for me). We had 3×2 miles on Lake Money Road in Flagstaff where I completed one set and found myself in Urgent Care begging the Family Nurse Practitioner to replace my lungs with anything that can hold air. The FNP tells me my lungs are actually two pork chops, gives me some advice and sends me on my way, I live to fight another day. The following Tuesday, Kersh and I run 8x800s where I feel significantly better. That was good for my confidence. Starting to think maybe Kersh let me have a good workout just to crush my confidence later in the week. God, I hate him…
FRIDAY BEFORE THE RACE
I drive my Subaru Impreza to Steve’s apartment and shoot him a text message, “Heeere”. He comes downstairs minutes later with a bag of clothes and a bag full of trash. I’m pretty sure he made a comment along the lines of “This is your body after the race,”and he proceeds to throw it into the dumpster across the street from his apartment. I’m not too sure, I think I blacked out from the realization that this race is happening in less than 48 hours.
As we get gas on our way out of Flagstaff, Kersh buys a beef stick. Ingredients include many unhealthy things, one of them being “lactic acid”. Now, I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure I should not consume that before a race. He insists I eat it, I do not. Along the way, we threaten each other with our personal pocket knives, send mean tweets, stop by Baja Fresh for some burritos, take a picture with a Border Patrol vehicle, and offer up some more banter. The ride goes smoothly.
We enter Orange County on our way to the family household of Scott Smith who graciously let us stay with them for the weekend. As we near, the beef stick still remains on the dash. I figure if my generation has been eating Tide Pods for the last month, one beef stick isn’t going to kill me. I ate it. It was satisfying, but it did not taste good. Seems analogous to a 10k, but what do I know.
We spend the evening with the Smith’s, which includes Scott’s younger brother Nick. He is colloquially known as the “Idiot” or The Idiot Marathoner. The Smith family, sans Scott and their younger brother Alex (not the Chief’s QB), myself and Kersh head to a local burger joint then call it a night.
The following morning, Kersh and I accompany Nick to practice. Nick, who I assume to be the smartest Smith child teaches and coaches cross country for one of the local high schools in the area. Kersh and I run 8.5 miles with strides, my legs feel like trash. I ask Kersh how he feels, he says “good.” All I know is that tomorrow I’m going to get rocked. Maybe I should send out another mean tweet? Ok, done. “@stephenkersh is slow.” HA! GOT HIM.
Why am I like this? This isn’t my specialty, I’m racing a marathoner. Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut and compete and be happy with the results? PRIDE. That is the only thing I can think of. You might be reading this and think that I’m an awful person. It’s ok. I’ve been called worse. You’re probably thinking, why would you do this to your friend? Honestly, I have no real reason except for on the morning of February 4th, Stephen Kersh is no longer my friend but my competitor.
My alarm goes off at 4:45 am, as I walk out of my room provided to me by the Smith family, Kersh walks down the stairs. I wish I could tell you exactly what he said but my mom would be appalled that I am friends with such a creature. For the next 30 minutes Kersh, Scott, and myself sit in the kitchen making peanut butter toast and consuming coffee. Kersh stole a piece of bread off of Scott’s plate and proceeds to tell me I’m not allowed to have any coffee. This only strengthens my desire to watch him burn. Why is he mean? I have no idea, but I no longer have an iota of sympathy for him.
The following 45 minutes we drive south on I-5 to Encinitas. We drive past Camp Pendleton along the coast and banter about who is going to win. I am starting to get nervous. Like the feeling you get when you’re about to kiss the cutest girl in school and don’t want to screw it up, but you already know your lips are too dry. The feeling when you get called into the principal’s office and you have no idea what you did, but you “know” you did something. The feeling you get when you’re about to race your friend in an event you’ve never run before in your life AFTER tweeting smack for the last two weeks knowing well enough you cannot back it up. THAT feeling. My skin is crawling, but I keep my cool. I don’t want to look like a fool.
We finally arrive in Encinitas and meet up with Scott’s teammates, Futsum, Kellyn Taylor, and honorary Flagstaff resident, Dylan Blankenbaker. On our warm up, I tell Kersh that if I see him 800m to go I am going to gun him down. One might think I should be more focused than this, but this is my way of controlling my nerves. If I joke about it, then it is never real. Kind of the way I live my life. Maybe I have a problem, feel free to DM me with your personal diagnosis.
As we return to the corral and put on our Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club singlets, a feeling of calmness surrounds me. This is the calmest I have EVER been before a race. Maybe things are looking up for me. Once the race starts Scott, Futsum, Kersh, and Dylan take an immediate lead. I hang back with my friend and former Washington roommate, Nick Harris. As the race progresses, their lead only becomes more dominating. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I don’t feel bad. I get through mile four and realize that is on par with the longest tempo run I have ever successfully finished. I am in unknown territory. It’s a waiting game until my legs blow up. Kersh is far beyond what my eyes can see. I come to 800m to go and remember what I previously told Kersh about gunning him down, but I don’t see him, so he is safe.
When I cross the finish line I give myself a second to catch my breath, hands on knees; I’m pretty stoked I even finished the race. I look up and Kersh is sitting on the curb with the other guys from Flagstaff. Kersh shoots me a smile and I laugh. That is all was needed between friends and enemies.