Enduring to the End


Marathon: The Last Mile

You haven't run a marathon before. You know what it's like to run long distances. You've "hit the wall" and gone on and found your second wind. You know how to pace yourself and have been doing it well, balancing you strength and stamina against the rest of the track.

But you have no idea what the "final stretch" will be like. You've never been there. You've seen it from the sidelines. You've measured the track. You've talked with those who have run the race before you. Some of them keep on racing for the joy of finishing. This marathon is a one time opportunity. There will be no "next year" to better your time. No other venue to give you better traction or a softer track. This is it, baby!

In the Duluth, Minnesota Grandma's Marathon at about the 25 mile mark, there is a slight upgrade into town. The finish line is almost in sight. There is nothing between you and the finish except a few cups of Gatorade, sweaty socks, and Mount Everest. It's only a hundred feet high and is a gradual grade over three quarters of a mile. But you're ready to die on the spot. The one thing that pushes you on is the 25 miles behind you, looming, gently pressing you onward like a softly rolling giant ball of experience that says, "Keep moving and you'll make it."

Your feet are stuck in the wet cement they call a track. Cars have been blocked from the highway during the marathon. Now you're thinking that it was to protect them from sinking into this sweaty silt that looked like concrete just minutes ago. Your feet must be on Jupiter because they weigh a thousand pounds each. There is no way to keep them moving. Even your arms, though bearing no load, now seem to be holding up your entire body as they ache and reach for the finish line.

Every step is an effort. Each move is an individual command: "Right foot forward, now left, right, left, left. . . stumble. . . Where was I? Oh! Right . . ."

You think, after the finish, that there might have been some truth in the joke where the hairdresser removes the earphones from a blonde patron's head so he can cut her hair, and she passes out. As she is being carried away, the hairdresser picks up the earphones and listens, "Breathe in. . . . Breathe out. . . . Breathe in. . . . Breathe out. . . ." She must've been a marathon runner stuck in the last mile.

You command your legs to move. Stumble again. "Oh, move the arms! Keep balance. So much to do! There's not time. I can't do all this at once. Right foot, swing the torso, shake the arms. Are they still there? Didn't I put on shoes this morning? My feet hurt before, but they're worn off to my knees. How do you run on your knees? Is this to keep me humble? What do I do when I get to the finish line? I only know how to run! I can't do anything else! . . . Help! . . . Gatorade? Thanks."

You feel the presence of loved ones along the track. You think you hear their voices. You can only see your next step, but you know it's not your last yet. You keep running, or are you still moving? Yes, call it running for that is all there is right now. Your loved ones seem to be buoying you up, holding you by your arms. You search for your oxygen bottle as you continue your trek, plodding step by step, up the side of Mount Everest. Those who love you lift you and carry you up the mountain, and then . . . a skateboard would do nicely here: after scaling to the peak, the flat last few yards looks like a downhill jaunt. Your, feet, lost in the quicksand yards back, catch up with you. Breathing burns. Your whole body burns. You just can't take this anymore.

And then the finish line.

Don DenTandt
August 2008