I had run. MAN, had I run. I had just crossed the 11-mile mark, and here was the plan: I sputter to a walk for the 12th mile, then run the final mile so I could heroically rumble down the home stretch.
I was fine. Really, I was fine. Kind of. My goal was to run eight miles total, out of the 13.1 put before me. I ran the first eight-and-a-half, and then some. The bacon didn’t stop me. The bros handing out beer didn’t stop me. Well, okay, both of those stopped me but only for a few seconds! So did the man dressed as a lion. So did the man dressed as a cow. it’s all about how you finish, though, right?
Saturday at Grandma’s Marathon, it was about the couple who ran across the finish line hand-in-hand. It was about the folks who grated their muscles crossing the stripe to get their first green medal. It was about the Kenyan who kicked out a 33-year-old record. It was never about a guy in a charcoal shirt and wind pants. Who gave a walking fuck about some out-of-shape everyman — whose race bib number wasn’t even prime — with his head down, wheezing his way toward free peanut butter?
One man did.
I heard him say, “Come on Frank, you’ve got this.”
I didn’t have my contacts in. I saw him, but I didn’t really. I saw his billed knit hat, his comfy coat. He held a sign but I don’t remember it. He was nicely-tanned with chiseled facial features. Attractive gentleman. I could feel my wife being turned on by this man, and she was at the finish line two miles away.
My unaided eyes strained in vain to make him out. Where did I know this guy from? He read my face and gave me the answer: I didn’t.
“I read your bib,” he said.
My bib: 11875. It’s got eight factors, the largest of which is 2,375. Above the number, in small letters, was my first name. It wasn’t something you could just see. This charming gentleman looked for it.
“Let’s go, Frank, come on.”
I once heard a professor say, the sweetest sound a person will hear is the sound of their own name. I probably heard 1,000 people tell me to keep going, that I was doing great, that I “otter keep going,” that I was looking great, that to her I was a Kenyan … but I don’t remember any of their faces or the texture of their head covers. I remember this man’s. It was a dark color. The brim was slightly cocked to his right.
There was a scrapbook worth of moment in my first Bjorklund, not the least of which was the falling of Dick Beardsley’s marathon record to Dominic Ondoro (he even wore #1 — what a fucking MAN), but it wasn’t the free bacon I look back on. It wasn’t even the beer the poncho-rockin’ bros handed me at mile 10 (best Michelob I’ve ever had). It was the man at Mile 11, who muddied up my grand design of mediocrity by merely reading my name back to me.
I ran out of his sight, and didn’t walk for more than a breath until I crossed the finish. It wasn’t the dozen spoons of peanut butter I ate afterward that was the most fulfilling, nor was it the bagel with the additional three scoops of peanut butter. It wasn’t the free beer in the tent, nor was it the heavenly tripel I
slugged sipped no, slugged at Canal Park Brewery the second they opened. I couldn’t stop reflecting on that one man.
I understand if you think it’s bizarre, but I hope you understand if I think it isn’t. It was scary. It was intimate. We connected. I couldn’t let him down. He made it so personal. I felt empty, but he helped me tap into reserves I hadn’t yet reached for.
There were so many elements of the Grandma’s experience that make me want to endure it again. I was broken down on a bench for a good half and hour. I was crumpled up in my back seat while my wife drove me home, and I was laid out on a bed in my dad’s guest bedroom for the balance of the afternoon. I can’t wait to do it again.