While watching a live feed of the Boston Marathon today (April 20), it was impossible not to re-live the former “glory days” which all mature runners have tucked neatly away somewhere in their souls. Watching the 1000’s of runners crossing the finish line around the 3 hour mark – all looking so smooth, effortless, and strong….well, I was transported into a different dimension of reality. Suddenly, I was there (consciously I knew it was 30 years ago, but time had obviously stopped). And I really mean “I was there”. I was in the middle of the crowd of 3 hour finishers, floating along, looking to my right and left, seeing the runners in front of me that I would have to get by, looking down at my watch, “yep, I can still make it under 3:00”. Then I started hearing music, but not the kind of music I’m accustomed to at finish lines. This was no adrenalin-infused victory scene. It was utterly peaceful music, ethereal music – flutes, violins, and a low throbbing heartbeat-like rhythm. The drone of runners’ footsteps all around me had faded away. All the cheering was gone. “Hey, what’s going on around here?” I yelled. The runner to my left told me to shut up and listen, because the Coach was about to speak. Now this was all too weird.
The guy to my right had a vague familiarity to him. I took another closer look, and saw his eyes, and it was my Coach. Well, now I was confused. It wasn’t really MY coach – I had never really liked my running coach – he had had no faith in me, and kept asking me to quit the team – I was so slow. But this was somehow my real Coach, or someone I wanted to be my coach. All I knew was that I admired him – I always had. Oh, maybe he was at one of those coaches’ conferences I used to attend where famous runners give out coaching tips. Out of the corner of my eye, the runner on my right glanced over at me, and had this knowing smile on his face. All of a sudden, he started speaking to me. No! I thought. Not right in the middle of the home stretch of the Boston Marathon for heaven’s sake! But he said very calmly, David, I’m here to remind you of your greatness, and to help you with your next step. I glanced around and realized that everyone around me was not only moving in slow motion, but they were basically motionless. It had been raining the whole run, I knew that. But the raindrops were suspended in air. There was no breeze. Mentally I felt like I was still building up to that last big surge to the finish line, but it didn’t seem to matter any more. The music stopped, and there was nothing but an inexpressible silence all around me. After what seemed like an eternity, I realized I could care less about whatever it was I had been doing. Time had vanished. There was no urgency. All that mattered was what had just been spoken by someone with such an amazing eye contact. The Coach gently said: I’ve been told you are wanting more out of life, and want to really wake-up and start doing something more satisfying than trying to hold onto past glories. I thought: How did you know? It doesn’t matter how I know…you just get going now. And, don’t forget!
I asked: Don’t forget what? But when I glanced up into that serene face, the face was gone. And not only gone, but the runners behind me were yelling to watch out so they didn’t trample over me. There was no problem stepping on the gas – and I exploded past the row of runners in front of me, and then realized the finish line was a distant memory and there I was all alone, on my normal, boring route I usually go on every morning. First chance I had, I stopped on someone’s lawn, and just sat down. What had just happened? I closed my eyes, and could hear my heart pounding. I could feel the welling up of tears. Everything that had just happened seemed eerily familiar, though other-worldly. When I opened my eyes again, there I was in my chair, in front of my computer, and the live feed was still going on, the elapsed time was now around 3:25, with that endless crowd of runners bearing down on the finish line. The look in their eyes seemed strangely different this time. They looked bored, hanging onto life, plodding along, with the announcer at the finish line, in a monotone voice, saying over and over again on the loudspeakers: Let’s give a big hand to all the runners….you’re looking great….you’re looking great….let’s give a big hand to all the runners….you’re looking great…you’re looking great. But wait a minute….what was I supposed to remember? - David Summerfield
FYI: (referring to the picture below) “Meb” is probably the most famous current American marathoner – he won the Boston Marathon last year – 1st time an American has won it since 1983!! And this year, nearing the finish line – and out of contention to win (he was only a few minutes back) – he drew alongside this “elite” woman runner (the women were given a 25 minute head start, so some of them could finish with the “elite” men), grabbed her hand, and they crossed together, instead of dashing past her at the finish.
Hilary must have been channeling her inner mature runner the entire race!
Meb Keflezighi and Hilary Dionne cross the 2015 Boston Marathon finish line together (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.