0.1.01,14′ AFTERWORD Everything after 17 miles, I knew, would be unknown territory, for that’s as far as I had run at one time; and now I had been in the realm of the unknown for almost three miles. Working to finish my first marathon, I kept remembering another day, the year before, when I had realized I could actually run this race. My temperature had been hovering for several days around 104. The malady I had felt like the flu, and what little of the world I could see out my window looked oddly yellow. Then, like an unexpected slap from a banner of hope, the thought came to me: I hadn’t been planning to, but I knew I really could run a marathon. In several ways I’d known that since I was a kid, but I’d never taken the dream seriously till now. Although I’d been running regularly, up to that point I had only run half the long distanceand that just once, the year before. I was ready now to double the span, and except for my crazed respiratory setback, I was in good shape. And I had been since childhood, except for two periods: a hemorrhaging ulcer at 19 that required nine transfusions, then seven years later two bouts of surgery for thyroid cancer. I’d come back before, and I was ready to do it again. Even from my sickbed, the world seemed exciting. Old images returned: thoughts of people like Paavo Nurmi and Emil Zatopek, distance runners I’d read about as a child. All kinds of athletes and adventurers had intrigued me then, and I made scrapbooks to celebrate them. I didn’t care if they were contemporary or ancient, athletic or intellectual, outlaws or heroes of high character; and if I didn’t find clippings, I made my own illustrations in pencil, Crayola, or paint. Chubby and slow, I knew even back then that I could run forever. I had a secret, too: I just hadn’t tested it yet. The trick was simply not to give up when I got tired. All I had to do was keep going for one more moment, then when that moment passed, go on for another, then another one after that. Anyone, after all, could hang on for one more moment. But now mile 20 was approaching, and things had quit being fun a long time back, in spite of the fact that, thankfully, I had passed through a stage I call the absurdity factor. It kicked in , around mile 14, when I began being plagued by a terrible feeling of ridiculousness. What I was trying to do did not seem noble or ambitious, just foolish. At mile 17, however, the sensation passed when I reminded myself that I had now moved into the realm of single digits: not much more than nine miles left. Tricks of the mind like that made me feel better, but the ordeal was nowhere near over. A two-block long, doglegging steep hill was beating up on me, and I knew I needed to attack it back, so I speeded up and that helped. Later, when I told some friends that the sudden rise had surprised me, they acted aghast: “Didn’t you read the topographical route map in the paper?” one of them asked. “No,” I said, “I knew I wouldn’t get lost.” “We’re not talking about getting lost,” Carol told me. “We’re talking about your race plan, your plans for your splits. Lord, I write my projected times on my palm.” “Oh, I wasn’t concerned about anything like that,” I said. “I’d just planned on doing what the course had to offer.” Chugging up the hill, I really was going faster, though maybe, I thought, that’s just illusion. I still didn’t know how long I could sustain the effort. I kept vacillating between excitement and misery. My attention lurching back into childhood, I began chanting instruction from a short work of moral philosophy I’d always liked: “I think I can, I think I can,” I mumbled, quoting from The Little Engine That Could. A man in middle age in my first marathon, I was now at the top of the hill, and the view ahead was clear. The only trouble was, the grade kept rising, but not as rudely as it had been. Just a bit more than six miles to go, I thought, and a wonderful feeling of light-leggedness swept through me. Victoryfinishingwas going to be mine. Choking up at the power of what completing this ordeal meant, I began composing letters to friends, to tell them all about the great day.This effort, to me, was even civilizational in scope. I was at home now with a set of old friends, the ancient Greeks. But the thrill of that quickly disappeared. I had begun celebrating too early. There was still a lot of work to do. Feet and hipjoints flaming, my ankles felt wobbly and weak, and my knees seemed wooden and brittle. Even my arms hurt, but others around me were suffering, too; a lot of them now were walking. Grimacing and crippled by leg cramps, some had even stopped. Miserable or not, I was determined to maintain at least a sham of a run. Then blocks ahead of me, a runner caught my eye. I still don’t know why I noticed him. There were plenty others about and they were a lot closer to me than he was. Still, while parts of me laughed at the crazy notion, I kept wondering: Can I catch him? “Hurry up,” I tyrannically told myself, but my legs refused to cooperate. I harassed them anyway, then decided to try tricking them. To hell with forthrightness, I thought, seeing myself jamming my half-open fist as far down as I could deep into my guts. I had to laugh, though.There wasn’t much down there to draw from, but quitting was no option. Besides, I really was getting closer to that shirt I’d noticed. There was a design on the back of it, too, but I was too far away to see what it was. The Marathon Shirt BY JAMES HOGGARD 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 2/15102
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