My First and Last Flip Off While Running

Leave the first response January 27, 2009 / Posted in Mindful Running, Oz On Marathoning

First Sunday In February , 1975
Las Vegas, elevation http:2001 ft (610 m)
Mile 25
First Marathon
Hit the wall at mile 11.

Three weeks before, I completed the Mission Bay Half Marathon. I knew nothing about marathoning except Tad Kostrubala, my mentor and author of Joy of Running, told me that I was ready to do a marathon. In retrospect, at the finish of the half marathon and with the red cowboy bandana tied around my head, I looked more the part of a native American who has survived the Trail of Desolation.

Here I was lined up on a cold (low 40’s) morning under a clear Las Vegas sky, with 200+ other marathoners lined up at the start listening to a prayer by one of the runners who had scripture verse numbers felt penned across the back of his T shirt. “Lord, we thank you for letting us partake of your greatness and love. We dedicate this small journey to you and to all you have given us so generously. We are pleased to be numbered among the one-thousandth of one percent of the human race which has this opportunity to celebrate together in this athletic event for your honor and glory. We praise you and thank you for allowing us to run the good race and fight the good fight. In your name, we ask your blessing on all here assembled. Give us strength to finish well and sing your praises.” There was a resounding, “Amen,” and the gun sounded before the “men” and we were off.

At the end, I am sorry to say God was not on my mind. Survival was on my mind.

At mile 11, dehydrated (and with no clue what that meant) I struggled on feeling that there was no way I could go on. At the same time knowing I would not fail at this seeminly impossible journey before me.

When I crossed the half marathon distance I knew I would finish…with feelings that I might die in the attempt…but there was no question of not finishing. The Bataan Death March and the Retreat from Moscow by Napoleon’s soldiers resonated in my body. If only there were some cooling snow to soothe my body. I remember sticking a hankie between my teeth, breathing between the sobs from the physical pain racking my entire body.

(Miles deleted for brevity of the point of this article)

At mile 25, I knew I would finish. It was an agonizing shuffle, limp, shuffle, shuffle, limp as I struggled on. Several years later I would understand the trance state created by this altered state of mind and body. The finish line was winding me in. All my energy was focused on finishing this last mile. The pain of breathing from the dry air being gasped in over lungs which wanted no more of this punishment.

The piercing and unexpected blast of a Mercedes horn behind me shocked me back into reality. Traffic has started to flow along the roadway and the car was about 15 feet behind me as I got a blast of the horn.

The adrenalin shot through my body, and the left had raised. A middle finger shaking in anger…anger enough to kill…defied this bastard to do something. This shell of a human animal driven by some inner forces to do this thing called a marathon was now ready to kill or be killed by whoever it was that honked.

I never even turned around. As the Mercedes came into my peripheral vision, ready to smash a fist into the side of the car, I saw the face of a smiling woman. As I saw the driver, he was waving his hand with one of those gestures, “It’s okay, it’s okay, we understand. Don’t worry.” Then I saw the three little girls in the back seat. It’s interesting that even as I recalled that moment just now-22 years later, the lump in my chest, the moisting of my eyes of a body remembering being broken…and having to let it go and go on.

He was a marathoner. I can’t say fellow marathoner because I had not yet finished my marathon. His honk was to signal “Good going. Keep it up. You can do it. We’re with you all the way.” As he drove by he gave me the thumbs up and again the open palmed wave saying “Forget it, I know what you now know. I’ve been there and we salute you.” The little girls smiled and waved and clapped silently from their air-conditioned vantage point.

I had no time to feel my smallness stemming from my misplaced anger, only the wave of compassion and support of a marathoner who forgave me my rashness, who understood my mortification, who now only wanted the best for me. Looking at me through his rearview mirror, he again waved and gave 3 little toots on his horn. I waved, but it was more a gesture of attempting to get my left hand chest high.

The initial horn blast has sent a charge of adrenalin through my body, and I was running faster. My sobs from all that had just happened in less that 15 seconds were uncontrollable. My eyes could only see color and shades of light and dark behind the film of tears which covered them.

When I crossed the finish line, I heard cheers. When I looked up there was only an angelic 3 year old girl beaming radiantly and smiling. The cheers were from the awards ceremony about a half block away. There was a fellow with his back to me piling barricades. When I asked my finish time, he looked at his watch and said, “About 5 hours,” and went back to stacking.

So that’s why I never flip off anyone. Now honking reminds me of someone who cared and wanted to give me a sound of encouragement. If it’s not, then “Empty Boat,” allows me to draw energy.

As one dear friend said to me recently, when someone screamed at us as we were running: “Well at least we have something in common. They don’t have a clue about what they’re doing and neither do I.”

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