thoughts while i wait for them to find the truck that ran over me:
Timed races always attract a few people who have no business being there. People like me, I suppose. While the idea of Signing Up To Run A Marathon is a daunting one, there is nothing intimidating about a race that requires nothing more than running a mile, then another one, and another, till you decide to stop.
As with most runs, this one has the full spectrum of runners. Blazing speed demons, True Believers, trail guys getting in 24 hours as just another training run, middle of the packers, casual runners.
And the guy in the black shirt.
He seems like a nice person. Smiles a lot. Black T-shirt on a hot day. Bright running attire. Crewcut. No leathery tan. Not A Serious Runner.
I find myself mildly annoyed. Seems like it’s disrespectful to the running gods. You must pay your dues to earn a spot at this starting line. And yet, there he is.
The race is an asphalt path. Half-mile out, half-mile back. Repeat as necessary. So you see each runner about 375,000 times during the course of the day. He’s strolling along as the speedsters fly by, part spectator and part participant. I’m the same way. The best thing about runs like this is watching the gazelles. He occasionally breaks into a run, but mostly he is resigned to a steady walk.
Runners come and go. The sun comes out, the day warms up, the miles wear on. And still, there he is. Out and back. Back and out. Same smile, same words of encouragement to the other peeps on the trail. I am no longer annoyed.
The race has six, 12 and 24 hour categories. There’s a medal for those who complete the marathon distance, and one by one those people depart the trail as they meet their goals. Then the six-hour folks are gone, and the course gets lonelier. And he’s still there, marching along on his silent quest.
What’s his deal? Why is he doing this? I find myself moving from annoyance to awe. He’s suffering, in the same way that the guy running 8-minute miles for six hours straight was suffering. In the same way that I’m suffering. We’re all fighting the demons at our own speed. Every mile, you go through the start/finish. They have pizza and beer and comfy chairs. That’s enough, your mind says. Let’s quit. Why yes, that’s an excellent idea, your body agrees. And then you make the turn and find some reason to head out for another mile. Cassidy’s Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. Lap after lap after endless lap, he’s finding a reason. He’s got my respect.
At about 30 miles or so, as I’m getting a little wonky, he’s coming the opposite direction. I stick my hand out, a runner’s salute, and he gives me the best high five ever. You’ve got this, I tell him. And I’m sure he does. I just don’t know what it is.
I find myself walking with him a couple of laps later. It’s my last lap, he tells me. This will give me a marathon. He says it in a way that indicates he can’t quite believe it. I’ve NEVER done anything anywhere close to this, he says. I just signed up for the race a couple of days ago, and here I am. I find myself overwhelmed with emotions for a guy I’ve been grousing about all day. I am a Bad Person.
After going over the timing mats, I wait for him. He comes across the finish, tells the race director he’s done. The RD places his Marathon Medal around his neck and mentions that he has a special today, free extra miles if he wants to keep going. He assures him 26.2 was plenty, thank you. And it WAS plenty. He han his race. He conquered his demons. He is a Serious Runner. Seriously.
I shake his hand, give him an awkward sideways hug, wipe away a tear, and head back out for the next mile.
That’s why I love running. It’s not about the limitations; it’s about the possibilities. The dreams. The what if’s. The signing up for a race you don’t know you can do and then finding yourself at the starting line to find out. Opening a door to see where it leads. And then opening another. You’ve never done anything anywhere close to this till you do it. Which is the perfect reason to do it.
It was my best marathon ever.
And it wasn’t even mine.