There were 45,000 runners, including me, and an estimated one million spectators at the 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon. Those numbers make this experience all the more amazing. The miracle happened at about mile 22 of the 26.2 mile course.
Mile 22 of a marathon is not a very pleasant place to be. At my level (think very amateur), you’ve already been exerting yourself for a few hours. Fatigue set in long ago. The energy-releasing glycogen that your cells had stored from days of what endurance runners call “carbo-loading” was used up a good while back, causing your body to search in every crevice of muscle for fuel. And speaking of muscles, all of them from the waist down are in various levels of pain.
Still, there are bigger challenges – the ones in your mind. Thoughts of “I can’t do this,” and “I’ll never make it” have replaced the confidence of the starting line. That morning, pre-dawn, standing in the start corrals waiting for the gun that would signal it was time to begin, you knew you were ready. Weeks of training, proper nutrition, advice from mentors and coaches, and countless sacrifices had brought you to that place. Now, however, at mile 22, a battle rages in the area between your own ears. It’s the logic of ability versus the emotion of intense struggle.
More than twenty miles are behind. That’s a significant distance for sure, but the more noteworthy number is the four plus miles that still lie ahead. Those last few can seem never ending.
On this particular day, something nearly unbelievable happened. Call it luck, inspiration, or a kind of divine prompting, but for some reason, as I was running the 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon, at about the mile 22 mark, I looked over my left shoulder into the crowd of spectators. I could barely believe what – or who – I thought I saw.
In an instant, my eyes locked onto those of a friend from the running club of which I’m a member way back in my home town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Or at least it looked like him. Could it really be?
“Craig?”, I shouted.
“Steve?”, he replied.
Yes, Craig from Ft. Lauderdale was visiting the Chicago area that day. He hadn’t planned to run the marathon, but being a fan of the sport he came out to watch. And in the midst of an enormous collection of humans, our gaze met – me a runner, and him a spectator – at mile 22 of the Bank Of America Chicago Marathon.
To my good fortune, Craig was wearing his running shoes. Off the sidewalk and onto the course he came, trotting alongside me. He chanted encouragements such as, “You can do it.” “You’ve got this,” and “If you don’t finish, Steve, I’ll tell everybody back at the club that you’re a baby.”
After a mile or so of keeping me company and lifting my spirits, Craig prodded me with “Come on, pick it up.” Incredibly, I somehow found the strength to do just that. The agony I battled not long before had been overcome by a new resolve to see this race through to a successful outcome.
Moments later, my running companion left me on my own once again. As Craig made his way back into the crowd, I went on to complete the race, collect my finisher’s medal and get some rest.
I think about that day often. It’s a great metaphor of life. There are times when we feel as though we’ve been trudging along forever. Our reserves are depleted and it seems that we just can’t go on. At that very moment, when we want so badly to quit, matters get even worse as new circumstances present themselves, more daunting than the ones before. The path ahead seems impossible to conquer.
Just when we think we’re about to give up, good fortune strikes. The breakthrough occurs. The situation brightens. Often this shift is the result of a fellow sojourner who steps in to lend a hand at just the right moment.
He or she may not intersect with our lives for long, but it’s long enough to make a difference, the way Craig’s support for just two or so miles out of an entire marathon was so very significant to me. Hope returns to our spirits at last, and on the wings of this new-found strength we are able to complete the course before us.
There’s another side to these scenarios, and it’s a very interesting one. The person doing the helping realizes a profound benefit as well. A sense of fulfillment comes with stepping out of the crowd to meet the needs of someone who’s going through tough times. This is a great paradox of human interaction – the giver is often equally the receiver.
The 2013 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon forever holds a special place in my heart. It was 26.2 miles of physical and emotional highs and lows. More importantly, it contained within it valuable lessons that touch the deepest inner places of humanity. I will always remember the miracle that occurred when I saw an angel at mile 22.