She gives me a little kiss on the lips. "Don't."
We are finally off at 8:36. By the time I get clear of the tangle of runners and bikers, pass Babbitt on the side of the road in his frog suit, and find my stride, Calene is too far in the distance to see. The woman, much to my relief, can ride.
When I get to the first bike switch area, I take a swig of water. The course is dusty and sweltering, the sky cloudless. I get on and begin pedaling, not taking the time to raise the seat. Calene is already a half-mile into the run, battling it out in a pack from our wave. Much to my relief, she bears no scrapes, bruises, or other signs of a crash. "Looking good, babe," I shout as I ride past.
Her pre-race nerves have vanished. "Go, honey," she cries, actually sounding as if she is having a good time.
I take another swig from the water bottle as I set the bike down a half-mile later, vault military-style over a low wall, and take off running down a steep trail leading into a gully. On the other side, the narrow path is clogged with riders pushing and carrying their bikes up the switchbacks of a sharp hill. Most are walking or stopping every few steps to rest. Dust clouds the air. I pass them by running through the scrub and thistles alongside the trail, struck by their lack of teamwork. Muddy Buddy is, first and foremost, a team event. Those who work together win. So why are these people all working alone? And why, for that matter, am I running up the trail and leaving Calene to join their exhausted ranks?
I can tell you why: It feels good to pass people. That's one reason. And Calene is capable of taking care of herself. That is another. And it means the heresy of backtracking, which is still another reason. But more than anything, I am feeling the old competitive juices. I have found a pretty little rhythm to my stride and don't want to go back down that beast of a hill and mess things up.