Kopacs at NY Marathon finish line
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Kopac's Corner

One Wrong Turn Deserves Another Explanation

by Bob Kopac

I want to announce that I made a mistake. I wrote an article some time ago that was inaccurate. Yes, I know that is hard to believe, but I am runner enough to admit it. The article, entitled One Wrong Turn Deserves Another, discussed various races where the leader made a wrong turn just before the finish line. The examples I gave were German Silva at the 1994 New York City Marathon, Prisco Huerto at the 1995 Dutchess County Classic (New York) Half-marathon, and Turbo Tumo of Ethiopia at the 1996 Houston Marathon. All won their races even after making a wrong turn near the finish. I listed nine reasons why runners make wrong turns near the end. However, I should have known that we live in a David Letterman universe, and there are always the top 10 reasons. I was missing the number one reason runners make wrong turns near the end.

To summarize my 9 reasons of the top 10:

10. Runners are nice people. Truth be told, they might be TOO NICE! A runner subconsciously makes a wrong turn so his or her competitor can win.

9. Runners are embarrassed by winning. A runner deliberately makes a wrong turn so his or her competitor can win. If the runner still finishes first, the winner can be found bent over, hands on knees, head hanging down. This stance is the best way to avoid having to look into the eyes of the vanquished runners.

8. Runners are maternal. Which is why the winner falls into the arms of the nearest finisher. There is more hugging than at an Alan Alda film festival.

7. Runners suffer from the "Reach out and touch someone, anyone" syndrome. The runner will continue running after the finish until he or she finds someone to hug, which is why the marathon is longer than 26 miles. Blaming it on the Queen is just more royal bashing.

6. The loneliness of the long-distance runner. Runners hug people because they are lonely, unfortunately drenching the huggee with sweat.

5. Runners have no sense of direction. That's why traffic control volunteers help prevent runners from ending up in Mexico or Canada.

4. Nice people are attracted to individual sports, not-so-nice people are attracted to team sports. By the way, this explains the Dallas Cowboys.

3. Nice guys finish last. A race filled with nice runners would have 100 percent DNFs, because no one would want to win.

2. Wrong turns are deliberate attempts to psychologically destroy competitors. Since runners cannot trash-talk because they are out of breath from running, they use the wrong turn as a type of trash-talk.

Those were my reasons. However, while discussing the article with a non-running friend, he proposed the number one reason a runner makes a wrong turn near the end of the race:

1. Running makes you dumb, and the farther you run, the dumber you become!

Duh! It should have been obvious to me. However, I am a runner--remember the number one reason. I know that when I ran long distances, I would set a goal to keep a steady pace throughout the race. However, as the miles got higher and higher, I would end up running just a little faster each mile. After all, I would feel pretty good at the time and I would think (not too clearly) that perhaps I could go a wee bit faster. When the miles got into the double digits, the "dumb factor" would kick in even more and I would go even faster, eventually crashing and burning.

At the Onion Harvest Half-marathon, I ran injured; I started the race dumb! I raced at three-quarter time, with a few sharps--sharp pains, that is. I maintained an easy pace, until a young woman passed me at mile 9. I sped up to keep pace with her. Was it because I was getting dumber, or was it the Guy Thing? Women may say there is no difference.

One year I was traffic-control director for the Dutchess County Classic Marathon. I contemplated placing electric shocks into the pavement for when runners missed turns in the course, but I could not afford the electric bills. I did not have enough volunteers to safeguard the intersections--I only had so many non-runner friends I could hoodwink into standing for several hours at each intersection! At an incredibly quiet right turn on the course I placed a sign on a pole, eye-level, with an arrow pointing to the right. There also was a large arrow painted on the road. However, a few marathoners missed both arrows and ran straight ahead. What conclusively proved the runners got dumber the longer they ran was that the course was a double-loop, and the marathoners made the mistake on the second loop; they already had made the right turn on the first loop! I had not planned for the accumulating dumbness.

Once, at the Dutchess County Classic Marathon, I drove around the course looking for runners in trouble. I noticed that runners around the 21-mile marker started to look like extras from the movie Night of the Living Dead. To try to gauge their dumbness level, I would engage them in conversation and ask the following questions:

10. What...is your name?

9. What...is your quest?

8. What...is the wind velocity of an unladen swallow?

7. What color are your sneakers? DON'T LOOK DOWN!

6. Do you remember where you were when you heard that Steve Prefontaine was killed?

5. Do you realize that Jim Fixx died of a heart attack doing what you are doing now?

4. Is that runner's high or are you also a snowboarder?

3. If Elizabeth Barrett Browning was cremated, should she be called Elizabeth Barrett Burnt?

2. If Bob Kempainen leaves Los Angeles at 7:30 AM heading east at a world-class pace and Forrest Gump leaves Atlanta, Georgia at 8:45 AM heading west at a Gump-class pace, in what state will they meet, and does that state have a world-class marathon?

And the number one question to ask a runner to determine if he or she is lucid:

1. Are you in pain? If the marathoner answers no, immediately pull him or her off the course. It is obvious the runner is oblivious to his or her condition!

While questioning the semi-coherent runners, I also watched for runners who appeared to be out of alignment, that is, listing in one direction. I encountered one runner who looked as though his one leg was a foot shorter than the other leg. I debated whether or not to pull him from the course, but I knew he had run several marathons. As I talked with him as he ran, he assured me that he could tough it out and finish the course--the Guy Thing.

I forgot the fact that long distance makes one dumb; I should have made the judgment call, not the marathoner. Perhaps it was the fact that I was a runner also, and, as I already had proved in the previous article, runners are nice people. I was so nice that I did not pull him from the course. Perhaps the runner's accumulating dumbness was contagious, and I caught it also. At the finish line I was "counseled" concerning my decision. Let's just say that now I am not as nice as I once was.

So runners, beware. If you ever see a steely-eyed volunteer who sounds like Clint Eastwood on the course ("Go ahead, make my day"), that would be me. Do not argue with me when I pull you off the course. I am not as dumb as you look.