"We Both Won"
Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
Several years ago, Paul and I met after a tough 5K race, when I edged him out at the finish, after exchanging leads with him throughout the race. We could have gone straight to the refreshment table without a word, but instead we introduced ourselves to each other, and became friends. Over the next year or so, we battled intensely at the 5K and 10K distance, alternating wins, and becoming faster runners and closer friends as a result.
Then, competitively, we went in different directions. While I struggled with a string of injuries, and came close to becoming a non-runner, Paul started an amazing string of marathons, running one in 28 consecutive months. That string included a 50K, and a 50 mile run.
Eventually, I healed, and Paul's string of marathons voluntarily ended. Though the friendship remained strong, the racing rivalry never quite picked back up. He became an active grandfather, so other priorities replaced racing. Yesterday was his first marathon in about 1 1/2 years, perhaps inspired in part by the fact that I had run 2 near the end of last year.
So yesterday morning, I set my alarm for 4:30AM, got to Paul's house by about 5:45, and we drove south about 80 miles to Calloway Gardens, where the marathon was held. Perfect marathon weather awaited us, with cool crisp temperatures of about 35 at the start, calm winds, and sunny skies.
Paul and I planned the run the race together. We had done this one time before, back in early 1997, and enjoyed each other's company during a marathon with under 50 finishers. Yesterday's marathon was 2 loops of the concurrently run 1/2 marathon course, so during the first 13.1 miles the marathoners and 1/2 marathoners ran together. Only differing number ranges on the race bibs separated the two groups until the 1/2 marathon split, when the 1/2 marathoners forked to the right, and to the finish, and the marathoners continued to the left, and their second loop.
We lost almost everyone at the 1/2 marathon split, as the marathon had fewer than 100 runners, I believe. We found ourselves running alone as we started the second loop. We were already starting to feel tired, and Paul encouraged with this observation. "If the marathon were easy, a lot more people would be doing it." My reply- "If they were much easier, I would probably NOT be running them."
So we continued, mile by mile, gaining on, and passing close to a dozen people that second loop, and not allowing anyone to pass us. In my mind, I was thinking that with such a small field, that's a significant number of people to be reeling in. We were hurting, but it was that good kind of marathon hurt. While we complained to each other about how miserable we were feeling, we continued to hold a pretty good pace through those delirious final miles.
As we approached the finish line, we heard the announcer saying, "Here come two finishers, and I wouldn't be surprised if they have been running the entire race together. But ties are not allowed, so one of you is going to have to win." We plan to duke it out at the shorter distances again very soon, but as we looked at each other, that competitive spirit was nowhere to be found this day. We linked hands as we finished the race in a unison stride. We both won.
Our time? Well, you can't always judge a good time by the clock. We succeeded in achieving our goal. We accomplished what we came to do, so we had a great time. The fact that we both came home with age group awards was just icing on an already very sweet cake.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.