Last Sunday I (Marc here) joined 5,000 runners in the culminating event of Stratford's weekend celebration of Shakespreare's birthday. I was among the majority who decided a marathon would be too crazy of a thing to train for in a month's time, so I ran their 37th anual half-marathon. As it turns out, 13 miles isn't that easy of a feat, either. It's the longest distance I have ever run in my life, and BOY am I sore now.For the first 5 miles or so I felt great. The road was packed with runners but the atmosphere was light and jolly. Families had come out of their houses to yell, clap, and generally cheer us on, or hose down any who desired. The best part, though, after which I couldn't stop smiling, was a little old lady in her wheelchair, poised at the end of her driveway, who was smiling broadly and clapping rhythmically as we passed. For all I know she had been going on like that for 10 minutes, since the leaders of the pack first passed by. So delightful.
I was surprised at how, between miles 9 and 11, over and over and over again I had to keep deciding not to stop and walk. I felt like I was perpetually making up my mind to keep it up. 'After all, it's only the pain of the next half an hour vs the bragging rights and confidence of the rest of my life.' But it is amazing just how much the mind can be persuaded by the demons of pain. It's something more than simply wanting to rest, than simply thinking, 'boy I'd like to NOT have to lift these heavy legs anymore.' When you run your body turns against you, and that includes the chemicals in your brain. They make you overly emotional and they make you think you just might die if you have to do this for another 3 miles. If you walk you will be saved. If you run you will suffer. I even tried using a newly acquired technique of concentrating on my sensations without fear of the future, but to no avail. 'If I just walk for 10 seconds I'll feel good enough to run the last 2 and 1/2 miles.' Matter over mind, and mind over mind, I gave up. And walking felt sooooo great. I didn't even mind that the other runners were passing me up.
A couple seconds later (literally) the man in the red shirt came. I'll never forget him. As he passed me he patted me once on the back and told me to "come on, Lad. You're nearly there." "Damn it you're right" was my response, and I ran the rest of the way. I ran even faster than before, right up to the final sprint at the Avon-side sports green.
Curiously enough, it was only a couple minutes after the man in the red shirt gave me the power to overcome myself that he slowed to a walk. I had been running with him since he gave me the gift of those words, feeling like I was deriving my inspiration from him somehow, when, almost as a sad betrayal of me, he gave in himself. I looked at him incredulously with an "oi!?" (surprising myself). He assured me he would be right with me. I never saw him again.
It seems he gave me something he himself did not even have. When I could not find it in myself he gave me, through the incredible magic of words, my own final resolution to push through, leave the pain, and finish strong. I am indebted to him. I had it in me to finish strong, but I couldn't find it myself. It was like he gave me a key to my very own store of incredible energy: more mental than physical. Mind over mind. I wish I could have done the same for him. I hope at least I gave him something, by showing him that with a couple words he could change the course of this intense experience.
Thanks to red shirt guy I met my goal of under 2 hours. I came in 872nd (out of 1,845) at 1:57:06.