Tom is a contender at the Bisbee 1000 Steps—a contender for last place

I did the Bisbee 1000 Steps thing a couple of weeks ago. (See "Stairway to Heavin'," Oct. 15.) I can't really say that I ran it; that would be misleading, or, more correctly, hilarious. Neither can I say that I competed in it. "Competed" connotes that others were aware of my presence and had to put forth an effort to stay ahead of me. All I can say is that I did it.

I actually finished just ahead of a woman on crutches. It would be nice to think that the most important word in that sentence is "finished," but in no way does "finished" trump "crutches."

I got up before 6 that morning and drove down to Bisbee, arriving about a half-hour before the start of the race. It was a beautiful, clear day, but it would also turn out to be the hottest day in the history of the event, with temperatures hovering near 90 by noon. More than 1,700 people were going to take part in the event, and there were hundreds more (much-smarter) people who were there just to watch and cheer. I got a number to tape to my shirt and an electronic timing device that I attached to my ankle. That was probably a mistake.

Since there were so many people, they started the thing in flights—top-class runners going first, then midlevel athletes, then the walkers, and then me. Unfortunately, I was wandering around and looking for people I knew, and I walked past the starting line, triggering the timing device.

Let me make this as clear as I can: I was one of the very last people to finish the thing. While the race winner did it in 30 minutes or so, it took me more than two hours. You know that old joke about being able to time somebody with a sundial? You could have timed me with a calendar. (I brought a stopwatch, not knowing that they would provide the ankle timers. I wanted to establish a base time that I could try to beat next year. The time I established was certainly base.)

Anyway, I stepped over the line and then, seeing all of the people running down the road toward Brewery Gulch, I just stood there like a mamooch. No damn way was I going to run that thing. Finally, when the walkers started, I blended into the pack. Then the pack sorta left me behind.

There was a blessed bottleneck at the first flight of stairs, the 73-step Bandshell. It was nasty, and it was also by far the shortest of the nine stairways in the event. I have this weird John Nash/Adrian Monk thing about math, and I figured I'd just keep track of the number of stairs as I went along. As I got to around 19 or so, I decided that I would just take the event organizers' word for it.

As I got to the top of those stairs, I thought about Isaac Newton's equation determining that force equals mass times acceleration. If you jiggle those around, you learn that acceleration is in inverse proportion to mass, which explains my pace. And then there's the observation from the equally-great Richard Pryor, who said, "That old will be (messin') with your legs." Being Richard Pryor, he didn't really say "messin.'"

There were musicians all along the route performing for the participants. There were folk singers, bongo groups and steel-drum bands. It was cool. It would have been nice to have had a Sly and the Family Stone cover band. Most people would have liked "I Want to Take You Higher," but I would have been happy with "Stand!"

After finishing off another flight of stairs, I could have sworn somebody called me "Baboso!" which is a Spanish slang term that means, at the very least, "idiot." I asked the woman why she was calling me that, and she said, "No, I was saying 'mimosa.'" In my oxygen-deprived state, I then figured that she was calling me a female idiot. But, in fact, there was a stand where they were giving away free alcoholic beverages. I thought to myself, "Yeah, drink that stuff, and then watch nondrinker Tom zoom past you."

That didn't happen. If anything, the booze seemed to help people. Is a mimosa made with Red Bull?

As for me, I drank an entire 16.9-ounce bottle of water during the event. I didn't want to drink too much, have my stomach get all sloshy and then need to slow down from my blistering pace.

The third flight of stairs, Maxfield, had 181 of the most sadistic steps ever carved out of a mountainside. Two flights later, the Rose had 151. By then, things were pretty well thinned out, and I could enjoy the beautiful surroundings all by myself. There was this one family that kept stopping to take group photos against the majestic backdrop. They passed me like nine different times.

Many people did the event in costume, probably just to make me feel worse. One guy ran in red long johns and cowboy boots.

The route led us back near the starting line, but there was yet another mile-plus loop that included two more flights of stairs and took us high above the town. For the next hour or so, my only cogent thought was, "Rosie Ruiz is my hero."

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