K and I became Walmart people last Friday night. The marathon I ran Saturday morning was a good three hours’ drive from where we live, so we packed up the truck Friday afternoon and headed north. Sam Walton’s heirs are squabbling selfish billionaire brats and the store chain itself is problematic on a number of levels, but at least they let weirdos like us camp out in their parking lot overnight for free. The next morning I went into the store to use their bathroom and seek out coffee. “Are you running the marathon?” an early-morning store employee asked me. “You marathoners and your coffee,” he chuckled when I said yes. They did not have coffee (a whole other level of problematic), but the guy gave me detailed instructions on how to get to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.
“I’d like to run the marathon someday,” he added. I smiled politely. Most of the people I’ve encountered who say things like this never even come close to following through. Of course, I used to be someone who said she’d never run anything at all, so I added an encouraging, “You should!”
“I need to lose weight first, though. I just run on the treadmill now. I love it.” To my surprised look—no one loves the treadmill—he laughed and said, “I play music really loud while I run. Sometimes I sing and pump my arms to the beat. My friends are all, ‘stop that!’ but I ignore them and keep going.”
I thanked him for the directions and gave him far more sincere encouragement this time. “You should definitely run a marathon. I think you’ll love it.”
There are marathon people. We might not have much else in common, but we all like doing this one slightly strange thing.
Fast forward—well, if a 9:40-ish pace can be considered fast—to the last mile of the marathon. I’m going to finish and I’m going to finish running, albeit slowly, rather than walking or crawling or not at all. It feels like victory even if that feeling is limited to the parts of my brain that aren’t going ouch ouch OUCH stop it RIGHT NOW. Another runner catches up to me and I say “Great job!”
He slows to thank me and asks, “Is this your first marathon?”
He’s not the first person to ask this, and I’m not sure why. I’d like to think it’s my youthful good looks—the guy asking looks to be literally half my age—and not the fact that I’m clearly struggling to finish. I tell him I’ve done more than 30 of these and he’s surprised and impressed. I ask him if this is his first. It is. Now I’m the impressed one; he’s finishing strong, a lot stronger than I did on my own miserable debut. “Congratulations! That’s fantastic!”
“Thanks. It feels terrible.”
I laugh. “You’re on your way to doing 30 more.”
He makes a sound that could have been laughter or choking or some other aural signifier of horror at the very idea. But we give each other final waves of cheerful support as we each push on ahead.
I could tell you some other things about the race—the beautiful scenery, the killer hills, the fact that the RD clearly made a deal with the devil because the raging thunderstorm that delayed the start 45 minutes stopped at exactly 7:45am and then started up again almost exactly when the race closed. I could talk about how I’d decided to do this on the spur of the moment, right after my last marathon two weeks ago had not become one of the 30+ because I DNF’d in heartbreaking fashion, and how this time I didn’t bother trying to BQ or PR or any other acronyms, good or bad, but just aimed to enjoy running again. There are a lot of possibilities for the meaning I decide to take away from a marathon, but this time it’s just going to be something small: a simple acknowledgement of the nice moments you can have with marathon people.