He woke up early the day of the race. Not too early – the training plan advised keeping as close to a regular routine as possible – just in time to down a shake with the perfect protein to carb ratio and let it digest a bit.
At the race start, he enlisted a helpful groundhog to attach his number pinnie to the back of his jersey. At the starting line, two rabbits hopped from foot to foot, having already warmed up. He took a small sip of water, decided for one last go at the Port-o-Potty. When he came out, one of the rabbits was eating a donut.
“Ha!” he said to himself. “A donut! I know how this story goes! She’ll be feeling that in the first two minutes!”
“One minute to start time!” the announcer called over a loudspeaker. A large digital clock counted down as the stragglers from the Port-o-Potties crowded over. “Runners on your marks … get set ….” The starting gun fired.
“Slow and steady, slow and steady,” the tortoise said to himself as the crowd zoomed past him. “Sure, some of these guys are fast. But a lot of ‘em are just gonna burn out.”
At mile one he saw the rabbits at the water table, chatting up a volunteer. “See,” he thought. Fellow racers continued to pass him. “Slow and steady, slow and steady,” he repeated. He passed a snail, then an ant, then a chipmunk holding hands with a toddler, carrying a baby in a backpack. He was tired; he could tell adrenalin was pushing him faster than his normal pace. The rabbits shot by.
Just when he thought he was going to have to quit, a volunteer shouted, “The finish is just around this corner! Keep it up!” He didn’t believe her, but as he crested the rise, he glimpsed an arc of blue balloons. He renewed his “slow and steady” chant.
“Hurrah!” he shouted aloud as he crossed the finish line. “I did it!”
He wandered towards the snack table, cooling down. The rabbits were there, refilling their juice cups. Each dropped a banana peel into the compost can and helped herself to another donut.
The tortoise shook his head. “Argh,” he said under his breath. He grabbed a water and an apple from the low shelves and headed for home.
A friendly young adult fox stepped in front of him. “Would you like a ‘Finisher’ medal?”
“Ok, sure,” the tortoise said. The fox slipped it over his neck. “Uh, could you …?” He moved his head from side to side, and the medal scraped on the ground.
“Oh yeah, of course!” the fox enthused. She tied a knot in the ribbon a few inches from the medal, shortening its drag.
At home, his partner stood at the stove. He had prepared a beautiful brunch, a veggie stew vibrant with reds and yellows and sautéed greens, garnished with crystallized dragonflies. “How was it?!?” he asked eagerly.
“Good,” the tortoise answered. “It smells great in here.” He passed through the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, “I just wanna check the times, and I’ll be right there. I think they’ll be up by now.”
They were. He scrolled down. And scrolled again. Past the rabbits, who had finished second and third, past the groundhogs and the squirrels and a bunch of other tortoises. About ¾ of the way down, his name appeared. He had not PR’d, although he’d kept a faster pace than his usual. His tiny shoulders slumped a little.
“I feel good,” he said to Tristan in the kitchen. “It’s just … it doesn’t seem fair. I do everything right and I’ll never be fast. Those rabbits were eating donuts before the race!”
“But you did it,” Tristan said. Tristan did not enjoy ambulatory events. “And you said you felt good. And you’ve improved since you started training. Who cares about them?
“I just …” he trailed off, then found the courage to finish. “I thought I might do a little better.”
Tristan took a deep breath, then looked at the ceiling and let it out. It was a peaceful release, not exasperated.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, mate. Sometimes, slow and steady is just slow and steady.”
The tortoise took another bite of his stew. “This is really good, Tris,” he said, looking at his partner with affection. “Do we have any bread to go with it?” He got up and rooted around in the bread drawer.
“Yeah, I made baguette, too, but I wasn’t sure if you were … eating bread, or what.”
He caught Tristan’s hopeful look. “Sounds amazing,” he said, nodding.
“Yeah, it kinda does,” Tristan agreed, reaching across for a generous scoop of butter. They ate in silence for a few moments.
“Hey, wanna go walk around downtown later this afternoon?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I suppose I do.”