Tomorrow, I will toe the line with a few thousand fellow runners at the Surf City Marathon. Many of us will be there for different reasons but with one goal of finishing 26.2 miles. As we struggle along the Pacific Coast Highway at Huntington Beach, we will each make the journey in our own ways. Yes, each one of us will be placing one foot in front of the others, but some will be in wheelchairs, and some will run on artificial leg or legs. But the distance is the same. The test is not only physical…but more so a test of our mental and spiritual abilities.
For most first time marathon runners and many non-runners, they see the marathon as only a physical task. But those of us who have accomplished the task before know that in the final measure of the race, is it’s the spiritual side of the equation that tips the scale from not finishing to finishing the distance.
In October 1977, I ran my first marathon. At mile 23, I was beaten. I was on the verge of quitting. Snow flurries swirled around me. As I broke the crest of the hill walking, there before me were a handful of people clapping and yelling encouragement…still I wanted to stop…but one elderly man setting in a wheelchair on the side of the road caught my attention. He was clapping and yelling for us to finish. On his lap was a list from the local newspaper with the name and number of each runner. He looked at the paper then at me. I was walking at the time. And I heard him call my name. “Don…you can finish this.”
With tears in my eyes, my body tired beyond belief, I found myself running. In those final three miles, every time I wanted to quite and walk…I remembered that man in the wheelchair…and I kept going…for him. That connection for just a quick moment on that cold October morning got me to the finish line.
This marathon tomorrow will be my first since my father died. My dad saw a few of my High School races, but he never saw me run a marathon. But I think, as I run tomorrow…he will be there by my side. As I make each stride, as my body fatigues from the distance and effort, and as I fight back the desire to quit, I will remember him. And that will give me the toughness to carry me to the finish line. So this race tomorrow is for my father…my mentor and friend.