Since I started marathoning in 2006, this is the first year when I didn’t sign up for a marathon nor trained for one. My mind needed that break to regain the appreciation and love for running that was tested by an unnecessary and difficult training I willingly subjected myself to. A training which left me tired and injured. My body forced that break and in the process has tested my spirit.
Today I used a coincidental opportunity to be at the site of a marathon and ran a few miles in the opposite direction finding along the way friends I didn’t expect to see, and cheering on total strangers.
I got to see a 2 ½ hour marathoner walking at mile 18, his face a blend of frustration and defeat. I saw the exasperation of the 3 hour pack delayed by the passing of a train.
I turned around at mile 15 and ran with the slow pack. My choice was not only because I could only stay with the slower pace, it was also that I enjoy to watch the 4 hour and 5 hour group more than any other.
It is in that pack that I see the sweat and the struggle of the ungifted runner. The man who walks and answers with a smile to the course marshal “I had better days”. The woman who stretches her calf, and another one pushes her toes against the sidewalk hoping to alleviate the cramps. A man bending over from exhaustion, his sigh a mixture of contentment and relief when I told him the next half mile was a slight downhill.
I catch these same people at the finish line. There are tears of excitement and tears of pain. Parents behind a young woman encourage her as she cries in pain: “You’ve got this Ash” A man who told me he was running his first marathon shakes his head and smiles as I yell “26 miles here! Push the last 0.2 and sign up for another one”.
The woman with a prosthesis approaches mile 26. Her smile is radiant, her fatigue palpable. Her finish is now 30 minutes slower than when I saw her earlier, but even more commendable. She humbles me and her inspiration reminds me of the hope I should never lose. The hope sometimes I question and lose sight of.
I applaud the effort of every one of them, and I secretly lift a prayer to God to make it possible for me to reach that finish line one more time, and one more time after that. My spirit has been tested enough.