I invited my buddy, John to run with me in the Cooper River Bridge Run (10K), which was today. I ran it last year for the first time… not just the first time for the Bridge Run, but the first time for any race at all! It is hard to teach 48 year old muscles that they can actually do this. John accepted my invitation to run and we did it together—today.John is an experienced athlete and I am not. He has played and continues to play all kinds of rough and physical sports from soccer to Gaelic Football. All that to say, John is in great physical shape. I am not. Why then are our finish times exactly the same? How did I get done in only 1 hour 6 minutes? How is it that John didn’t do so well, (his time was only 1 hour 6 minutes)? How could our times be exactly the same? What are the odds? The odds are exactly 100% when your buddy gives up his chance at beating the Kenyans to the finish in order to be with his friend.
Here’s the way I saw the race:
We arrived and parked downtown just in the nick of time to catch the bus and get over the bridge to the starting line before the bridge closed for the race. The ones who didn’t get over in time had to go the long way around and risk starting the race late. Grabbed some water and found our place in the lineup. Never did find the bananas. Where were the starting side bananas?
At 8:00, the gun went off… wait, no gun this year, just an announcer counting down the time. And we were off… walking… slowly… creeping towards the Starting line. The race starts at 8, but each runner’s time is measured by a little chip on their shoe. Our time started when we crossed the starting line. Ok, we were through the starting line and on the obstacle course. For the first two miles we dodged walkers and slower runners. It was pretty dangerous, but par for the course. Look for an opening and dash through.
Then we hit the bridge. I thought the new bridge was harder than the old bridge. The angle of ascent was steeper and it was longer. Once we got to the top of the bridge, the rest was downhill or flat. But that was one long hill! I thought we’d never make it. I was thinking near the top that I ought to walk a bit and I did for about 30-40 yards, then started running again.
Not long after hitting the top, we passed the 5 K mark and I looked at my stopwatch. It read 33 minutes and some seconds. That wasn’t going to be a good enough pace to make my goal of 1 hour for the 10 K, but I didn’t think I could do a faster pace. John encouraged me that runners frequently go through a place where they can run faster after they have been running for a while. I heard him and hoped that I would experience that.
After we were off of the bridge I was so glad to have that behind me. John was encouraging me so much. He would find openings between other runners and I followed him through them. Sometimes he’d jump ahead and look back to see if I was still behind him. I’d catch up and say, “I’m with you, man.” About mile 4, I was really feeling the fatigue and I wanted so badly to walk a while. John wouldn’t “let me” though. He’d keep encouraging me to remember my goal. I remember hearing these phrases over and over; “Come on.” “You can do it.” “You are doing great!” “Run to win the prize.” “Run the good race.” “We are running the race of life together.” At times, I was dazed. I could only see this mass of people in front of me and I kept going thinking to myself, “One foot in front of the other one.” “Baby steps” “Just keep going” As John continued to remind me of my goal, I said to myself, “Have a huge goal, then take baby steps and you’ll get there.”
Earlier in the race, at the first water station, we both got cups. At the second station, I was having trouble and John got me a cup. I swallowed most of it, poured some of it on my face and shirt. The second cup didn’t agree with me, so I decided I wouldn’t get any more water until the end. At the third station, John got me another cup. By this time, I was barely running. Not sure what to do with this water, I poured it on top of my head. When I did that, I kicked it into gear like there was no tomorrow and ran hard. I was determined that I’d finish the race like that. But I couldn’t do it. I slowed back to my slower pace and started thinking about walking again. John wouldn’t let me. “keep going… remember the goal… we’re almost there”
At some point he said, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” By that, he meant that the best was yet to come, but I thought to myself, “NO! This is the end!” I told him that one didn’t work for me and I kept on plodding along. Along the end of the race route, people stood and cheered us on. That was so awesome. Sometimes people would stick their hands out for a runner to slap as they passed by. I did that and it was neat… especially with the little kids.
Finally, we rounded the last corner and I saw the finish line. What a welcome sight! John said, let’s give it a big finish. I kicked it into gear one last time and ran as hard as I could to the finish line. They wanted us to keep running for a few blocks so that other runners could get through. I moved to the side and walked. I had earned that walk! I was completely spent. By the time we got to the fruit and water, I was hobbling like an old man! I have never ever been that sore and tired before.
It is now Saturday evening and my legs still hurt, but there’s a feeling of accomplishment that feels really good. I have another feeling too. I feel fortunate to have a great friend like John. To sum it all up, I must say, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” Thank God it was the end of that race, but there will be more races, God willing, and more time to build our friendships.