I heard footsteps behind me. At mile 21 it was difficult to lift my head; but I wanted to see who was so confidently striding toward me from behind. After more than three hours of feet hitting the pavement who could possibly have that stride now?
“It wasn’t me!” The quote from Disney’s 1997 Rocketman movie rang in my mind as I plodded forward with more of a shuffle than a run. I did not have a confident stride any more. My friend Brad had stayed with me for 18 miles of our 26.2 mile trial, at which point he took off to try and catch our 18 y.o. other running buddy before he reached the finish-line. I had already come to terms with the fact that my sub-9 minute mile times were over.
But someone passing me at that speed this far into the race? I turned sideways just as his black front locks of hair bounced into view. The ear-buds and John Stockton length shorts were unmistakable. It was Ben! …What?!
How had he caught me? I had left him as we descended Black canyon just minutes into the race and long before we got to the 9 3/4 mile mark, where a very tall Harry Potter and normally-sized Hermione waved Griffindor flags towards us cheering us on. I still didn’t see him when, at mile 13, Brad and I passed a table covered in lip-balm and hand sanitizer labelled “First Aid.” I have taken and taught numerous First Aid courses, and never once were these essential materials. “Emergency! I have a cracked dry lip!” Or “my skin bacteria are whelming me over! I need First Aid!” I mean, maybe during a pandemic you might hear that last one, but never in 2010. And especially not during a marathon.
I was dumbstruck when Ben pounded the pavement past me. Then it hit me just as quickly: the last words he had spoken to us as we advanced ahead of him: “you guys go ahead; I’m going to run at my pace.” And he did. Right past me. His pace was only 30 seconds slower per mile. But by now, because he had stuck with that pace the whole way – likely not stopping at the bathroom or for water-bottle swaps with Brad’s wife along the way – he was passing me. It was the tortoise and the hare. And I was the hare. At least until mile 20, culminating in a 12.5 minute mile during the 25th length of the strength sapping march, a near Parkinsonian shuffle to the end.
The only other thing I remember of that race was my foiled plans to raise my hands in triumph at the end and yell, “I’m going to Disneyworld!” I really was going to Florida 2 days later, but I did not have the strength by then, and did not feel triumphant at all. Also, since the last 0.2 miles of the Top of Utah marathon are uphill, – literally – I didn’t feel I had any extra mental energy to produce a bilateral shoulder abduction of that proportion at that time.
I will always remember, standing out among my memories of the only marathon I ever did, the moment when steadiness overcame impetuous mismanagement; when confidently, my friend, Ben, surpassed me in such decisive fashion, never even looking back when I recognized him and called his name. I am going to believe it was the earbuds. But maybe…just maybe… it was the fact that tortoises have much smaller ears than hares.