Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Midnight on South Mountain (Part III: The Finish)

Finish!  The last few strides and the passing of the slap bracelet and it was over.  I found myself fighting for air, but my part was done.

A few weeks ago as I lay in bed talking with my wife, she turned to me and told me that she was proud of me and how she thought I was so successful.  I responded…no sorry, but I’ve failed so many times and in so many ways, I couldn’t be that successful.  I then shared that it was like the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They might win this game and that game…but then they might lose the next.  They won the Super Bowl only to lose another…so success was too fleeting of a term.  I’d rather be known for what I was doing, rather than what I did.  I would rather be a good husband, good father, good chaplain, or good runner.  And I would rather leave the word “success” for someone to mention of me after I finish my life.

This last remembrance of the Ragnar race of September 23 and 24, 2011, has been difficult for me to write.  Difficult simply because it is about the “finish” so let me continue.

When I originally signed up for the race, my three legs were the combination of a 6 mile run, then a 6.6 mile run and a final leg of 6 miles.  But the race like life changed and changed without my permission.  Due to parking issues, the race organizers moved the relay zone to an elementary school were there was parking.  So they shifted my last leg about 2.8 miles in the wrong direction.  About two weeks before the race I had learned that my final leg was to be a 8.8 miles section of Rock Creek Park and the Georgetown Branch Trail into Bethesda, Maryland.

As I ran the last section, I could feel the accumulative effect of the sleep deprivation that I had imposed upon my body.  Having only 3 hours of sleep in the last 24 hours, and that little sleep delivered while lying on a bench seat of a van, did very little to aid my body in recovering.  My left knee was still sore from the first leg, my body ached from the excretion over South Mountain, and my mind was now numbed by the lack of sleep.  To be honest, I was even more aware that now in this last section, I would end up walking and crawling to the finish.  As I stood once again at the relay zone, my team mate gathered around.  All expressed to me a confidence in me that I knew I lacked.  As I took the slap bracelet, my simple prayer was “Lord, don’t let me let them down.”

As I headed away from the starting line, I saw Lt Colonel David Vernal.  His leg still bloody from his first leg fall, but he had run so heroically despite the bruised foot and knee. I couldn’t let him down.  And so I pushed on.  As I turned into Rock Creek Park I thought about Jason Dugan, our speedster…he had run his three legs hard and fast.  He had such an easy stride and was a last minute replacement to help out our team.  I couldn’t let him down.  As I ran through the park along the trail up and down the little rises, I thought of Captain Mary Garavelli, she had been handed the hardest of the legs, the monster 3rd leg that was the first major mountain climb.  We had cheered her every step as she climbed the first mountain of the race.  And at the top, she was just bouncing with energy…I couldn’t let her down.   As I ran up and onto the Georgetown Branch Trail, I could feel my body going…and I thought of Captain Michael Johnson, who at the last leg fell asleep right before his leg and we had to go find him to get him to the starting line.  We then watched him fly like he had jet wings to make up the time he lost and gained back several extra minutes, I couldn’t let that sacrifice he made go for not, so I pushed on.   As I ran along the Georgetown path, which was an old train line, I realized that this was going to be a lot tougher than I imagined.  But Ken Myers didn’t let down on his first, second or last leg.  He had pushed it into me every time he made his hand off of the bracelet to me and I couldn’t let him down and so I pushed.  About this time I started to pass slower runners who now were falling apart.  They were walking and stopping to stretch.  These were team that had been beating us…I couldn’t fail my team.  I thought of those in the other van, Captain Brian Viola and his wife Cynthia, who I had been handing off to, Master Sergeant Tom Harmon, Master Sergeant Cozette Teasley, and our team captain, Senior Master Sergeant Jorge Laurel, and our anchor runner Captain Markenson Dieujuste. They had been there cheering me on…and now I had to run.  As I left the trail heading the last mile uphill into Bethesda I pushed…I only had one mile left to run.  And if I had too, I would lay it all out here on this hill and die, I would not be passed, and I would finish…no so much for me but for them.  I would run for them who had kept faith with me and did their best.

As I finished my leg and passed the slap bracelet on to Mrs. Viola, it hit me…we weren’t home yet.  There was still the other van of six runners who had to finish.  So our six runners left and headed for the finish line in DC Harbor.  Around three, the other van came in and we gathered together about 300 yards from the finish line and we waited for Captain Markenson Dieujuste to arrive.  On his arrival we all joined him that last 300 yards and together we all finished the race.

After the team received our finisher medal and had a group picture taken, we went to a pavilion were there was pizza and beer for the finishers.  As we sat around a table we talked about our adventure and the twist and turns that come our way.  We shared the pizza and beer.  As we celebrated the end, it was heaven to me.

Heaven, because in my theology, and in the practice of my faith…it was heaven.  I honestly believe that when this life is done and my final race has been run, I will gather together with others who have been a part of my life and we will sit around a table, stand behind chairs, we will slap each other on the back and high five each one another.  We will share stories of the road and will celebrate life.  And Jesus, will be there and he will take a piece of pizza and hand it to us and say this is my body, and then he will take up a cup of beer and hand it to us and say drink this is my blood.  And we'll celebrate…

So…am I successful…today…tomorrow…I might lose, but in the end…I guess it doesn’t really matter because it is the journey….  It’s the journey that’s the important part.  (Oh…by the way…last leg, 8.8 miles was done in 1 hour 18 minutes and 18 seconds…which is a 8:55 per mile pace, I never did those 9:45 mile legs that I had plan on doing.)