Posted by: thehungryrunner | May 26, 2008

When a runner helps another runner: my THANK YOU to John!

I wanted to keep this separate from my race report of the Mackinaw Memorial Bridge Race, which you can read below, as I felt this deserves its own entry.

It just goes to show how seemingly small encounters, gestures, exchanges, can truly touch another deeply.  I met John, a warm, cheerful, and (I couldn’t help but notice) extraordinarily fit and disciplined runner, on the morning bus to the starting line.  As the bus wormed its way through the sleepy side streets and began its trek across the Mackinaw Bridge (so that the runners could start on the Upper Peninsula side and run across to the mainland Michigan end of the bridge) we chatted about our good fortune with the weather for this year’s race, about our participation in the previous Mack Bridge races, about training and lots of stuff in between.  I was immediately struck by the radiant, positive and down-to-earth attitude this gentleman exuded; between that and the fact that, despite the fact that he is over 25 years my senior (an age, I must point out, that many individuals are surrendering to a sedentary, increasingly immobilized life), his running and athletic accomplishments — current, not just past — dwarfed my own paltry efforts by comparison, I knew I had much to learn from this man.  I felt my already eager anticipation about the race swell up to near-frenzied proportions.  I’m very much afraid I talked his ear off as a result, but I appreciated his willingness to step to the plate!

Anyway, we climbed off the bus, still chatting merrily as we strolled over with our fellow runners to where the organizers were collecting our race satchels, then bid each other good luck before heading our separate ways to finish warming up, make a final pit stop, etc.

Fast-forward to my final stretch of the race, after I had managed to sustain a pace I felt good about, managed to talk myself down from a late-race side stitch (note to self:  do NOT chat with a fellow runner, no matter how tempting and no matter how much you want to return whatever encouragement they keep giving you, lest your diaphragm decides to spasm from the added movement), and was now in that final stretch:  another 200 or so feet of a slightly inclined side street, and then the final gauntlet to the finish line.  I could hear the crowd and the loudspeaker guy and knew I was almost there.  Tempting though it was to accelerate, I waited patiently before beginning my sprint, by now knowing that to do so too early could be disastrous for me.  Still, there was that “I can’t DO this!” feeling that takes over when you’re giving it all you got and then some.

But suddenly, as the throngs of runners who’d already finished and spectators came into view, there was John, standing along the sidelines and cheering me on.  I felt an electricity zap my protesting muscles, felt myself brighten instantly, my breath suddenly — and gratefully — opening up just a little farther.  Sensing my response, John yelled, “Here, I’ll run you in!”  I yelled my thank you and we were off, John’s strong voice encouraging me with his “Go!  You can do it!  Come on!  Do it!”  Suddenly the wind was on my feet, as if I was being carried far faster than my legs alone were propelling me.  I felt every muscle contracting, my arms pumping, my legs reaching, every cell of my body getting out and pushing, causing me to fly, at the last second, past the two runners that were ahead of me (I had initially dismissed any thought of passing them up).  I bounded past the finish line in what felt like that same blaze you see sprinters decelerating from upon finishing their races.  To say I felt ecstatic is the understatment of my running history, and I owe it all to my friend, who gave me that huge, final burst of energy and push that I needed.  I am humbled and grateful.  And awestruck, by the way, that he himself had the juice left to do what he did — clearly testimonial to the fact that I still have much room for improvement!

So thank you John!  You probably don’t realize what a great difference you made for me.

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