While running the only marathon I’m convinced I’ll ever run, I spent much of my time behind a man who wore a neon pink hat with the encouraging words “I may be a snail, but I’m ahead of you” embroidered around the opening in the back. I also faced a man who completed the entire marathon while running backward – we were passed around the 8 mile mark by another, faster backward runner. Halfway up The Hill, I met William, a fundraiser from Ireland. He was the first person I’d seen in a while who was walking. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me, but as I ran past, I hit his arm and said, “Come on, if I can do it, you can do it.” He gave me a look of irritation and horror (I think I startled him) and kept walking while I bounded up the hill. About 10 minutes later he came up and slapped me on the back as he ran past. After that we were friends and I had someone to chat with. It took about 10 miles to understand his accent and a bit longer to understand his jokes. Over the span of about 19 miles, we talked about our families, jobs, reasons for running. William the Great was running to bring peace to his country. I was running to get a medal for proof of my tale. William knew he’d finish; it was his 32nd marathon. I knew that if I didn’t get across the finish line in less than seven hours, I’d have no marathon medal.
Near the 20-mile mark there was a simulated wall. I’d heard about the mental wall people hit, but when I saw the painted brick mural attached to the overpass, I found it quaint, a nice gesture. When I was under the bridge and saw that the actual 20-mile marker was about 50 yards away, I was devastated. Tears burned behind my eyes. My throat constricted as I strained for breath. A cheerleader saw me and said, “You’re doing fine. It’s gonna be okay.” As I coughed to force air into my lungs, William again looked at me in horror. Each breath literally pulled my neck in around my windpipe (I didn’t realize that until the race photos were posted online.)
As we entered MCRD and headed toward the finish line, William told me that one of two things would occur: either I would get a burst of energy and run the last 200 meters or I’d die. He was wrong. I did manage to run the last 50 yards or so. William tried to let me finish ahead of him, but I wouldn’t hear of it. In retrospect, I wish I had. I’m still waiting to regret not purchasing the marathon photos, but it hasn’t happened. Sure, his legs were as white as mine, but they were mere twigs, almost cartoonishly thin. On the other hand, mine have never been thin. We were Jack and Mrs. Sprat.
After the marathon was over, William and I stayed in touch for about six months. Tami and I haven’t run together outside of the gym since then. Although I meant to, I never really ran much after that. About four months later I convinced my friend Norm to run with me and it led to us to the Light the Night race again. That was enough for him and apparently enough for me. I have no one to run with and I no longer talk about running with friends or strangers as if it’s something I do.