Thursday, May 19, 2011

                                          FRIENDS TO THE END

                              Reflections on the end of 20 years with a running partner.

                                                    By: Malcolm D. Gibson
           A friend of mine died today. He was my running partner for 20 years. I watched him go through a long divorce and fight a bout with cancer. He was a trooper. We were exactly the same height and weight so our bodies reacted the same on long training runs. We ran every race together.

          As younger men we were of one mind as competitive runners, always scheming to better our race times by trying the latest shoes, clothing and training techniques. But, over the years our ideas about running began to diverge. While he continued to be absorbed with his quest for faster times, I discovered that running let me stop being a slave to thinking at all. We remained virtual alter egos, but each with different reasons for running. His was to achieve PR’s, mine to unlock my inner self.

          I knew his wife well. She was not an athlete and struggled to accommodate the changes we adopted in our lifestyles as we pursued our running. Their relationship was like many others between runners and non-runners. There was conflict over diets and naps after long runs. As their marital problems mounted his runs changed from a joy to an escape. When the marriage ended it was not because of running, but running was all he had left.

          Over the years we struggled to find common ground in our philosophies of running and, eventually, life itself. We agonized and argued over which approach was best. Always the disciplined soldier, he believed that the purpose of life’s journey, like a long run, was to arrive at one’s destination…to rate one’s accomplishments against past performances or future goals. For him the journey was comprised of thousands of steps measured by time and space.

          I argued that there was an alternative….that the importance of the journey was not how it compared to the past or the future, but rather the quality of each step along the way.

          My friend devoted much of his life to avoiding adversity, seeking always to find an “ideal” formula for personal fulfillment and success. In his running, fatigue and pain were enemies to be out smarted in order to accomplish his goals.

          Rather than avoiding adversity, distance running taught me how to accept it as part of a larger positive experience. This approach helped me to achieve a better sense of perspective and balance not only in running but in life.

          In his heart, he knew I was right, but he was afraid to admit it….afraid to leave behind his competitive philosophy even though it took an ever increasing toll on his physical and mental health. I worried about him, about us. But, I loved him and hoped for the best.

          The end came quietly today after we shared a grueling 15 miler. I felt tired but renewed at the end of the run. He had been unusually quiet and I was encouraged because he seemed more at peace than before. It happened as we rested together on a bench in the park, dripping with perspiration. No one called an ambulance. He just smiled and slipped away, leaving me alone in the twilight. As I walked to my car I knew we were both better for it because, you see, he was also me.

Copyright 2011/ All Rights Reserved



Wednesday, May 4, 2011


                                                    INTO THE FIRE        

                               First time marathoners, comrades in arms.

            Near the starting line first timers mingle chatting and laughing.  They try to reduce the marathon to something normal, something routine, something familiar. They kid, pretend to be confident, and recount training runs. But, soon a hush falls as the  challenge looms.

            For months they have trained, and need only one thing to make them marathoners, crossing the finish line at 26.2 miles, and they will never be marathoners until they’ve done it. No one knows what will happen beyond Mile 20. It’s uncharted territory. Will they respond with strength and courage, or retreat into the crowd? It’s impossible to tell, and that’s the hell of it.

            By tonight they will be different. They will understand then what they cannot know now, how they will react under fire. Like green troops going into combat, when their story is told, it will be about those who survived and those who perished. Which will they be?

            They look into the faces of those around them, friends they have trained with, questioning who will make it and who won’t. They feel isolated as the starting gun draws closer.            

            The mystery is that they have volunteered for this mission. Why? What trait do they share that separates them from others? Not heredity. Not experience. Not success or failure in life. Perhaps somewhere inside they sense that they cannot discover the truth about themselves without risking it all, putting it all on the line for everyone to witness. The force that drives them to the starting line will deliver the answer by day’s end, a glimpse of who they really are.
            Life detaches. The marathon unites. Comrades in arms, the first timers band together to conquer the world, if only for a day. Most will never see each other again. But, neither will they ever be far from each other’s heart.

            Battling through the final miles, bonds will form between strangers. The strong will help the weak, the weak will find strength, all with a glance and a word of encouragement. Nothing they feel for the rest of their lives will be as spontaneous. Nothing they do will be as courageous, as compassionate, or as loving. In the face of defeat, they will give each other the gift of victory.

            And so when the battle is over the soldiers will retire. But, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, they will remember this day. The day they went to war alone, risked it all, and came home together as victors.  These are marathoners.