pDaddy’s Run for Lorraine

July 02 3 Comments Category: Blog

Until you see a Marathon up close you can never really capture the full impact of this granddaddy of all running events.  The Start of the race is like a jamboree—runners stretching and warming up, endless lines of people before endless lines of portable toilets, anxious faces on twitchy bodies, some fully clothed, some barely, 33,000 of them (from the 45,000 who signed up) all set to test their physical and mental endurance limits.

You can tell the novices by their restlessness, their inability to keep still, their outward shows of nonchalance betrayed by fretful brows and restive eyes looking far into the distance, willing their imaginations to capture the entire length of what they are about to traverse as if by wrapping their minds around the course they can somehow conquer it before taking even the first step.  They’ve trained for weeks, months, years, they’ve run shorter distances (5k, 10k, even 20 miles) to test the possibilities, yet as they go towards the start their minds are imbued with only one certainty— that in the last 5 miles they will enter a personal hell from which, if they emerge, it will somehow have been worth everything they’ve put their bodies through in the last few months.  But even this is an inchoate thought for how can one’s imagination fully capture, in any useful way, something one has never actually experienced?   The seasoned marathoners stand aside, enclosed in a calm bubble, waiting, waiting, waiting…

I walked with Patrick towards the start of the race.  Suddenly, someone tapped me on my shoulder and said, “weren’t you at so-and-so’s wedding last weekend in Boston?”  What are the odds of running into someone I didn’t know, someone who didn’t really know me but recognized me from a chance weekend a week earlier in another city, here at the start of the Chicago Marathon?  There’s an omen somewhere in that strange meeting, some fateful conjuration from the ingredients of two strangers recognizing each other amid the mass of 50,000 people.  What did it mean, if anything?  Nothing, probably, yet why did I suddenly feel a tiny sense of elation born of the wonder that such a thing could happen?  In the flashing euphoria of the moment I realized that I was just as apprehensive as Patrick, worried for my friend, for what he was about to embark upon, and this strange meeting relieved the tension quite palpably.

He was running for Lorraine, my wife who had died of cancer five months before to the day; he was running in her name and to raise money for cancer research through Lungevity; he was running to cast our collective grief into the crucible of his performance to transmute it into something meaningful and lasting; most of all, he was running because there is a poetic side to this endeavor—distance running is a mental and emotional investment as much as a physical effort, with its long silences, opportunities for soul searching, and the way in which it allows him to celebrate his place in the universe; it is a simple, clarifying act of authentication through which he can say, in the words of the original Marathoner, Pheidippides, “Rejoice, we conquer!”

As I watched Patrick leave for the start of the race I felt a tear at what he was doing for himself and Lorraine and me.  Shouldn’t I have been doing this?  Was it wrong to feel so proud even though I was doing nothing?  I felt so proud!  Anything else would be selfish, an insult to Lorraine and Patrick, a repudiation of this essential truth that Lorraine’s death and his running are not isolated, individual acts but communal events in which we all participate with equal measures of grief and joy.

On State Street we caught the runners tearing down.  The lead pack with its professionals whizzed past.  It’s one thing to see them on TV, quite another in person: I couldn’t believe how fast they were running.  Surely they knew they had 26 miles to go?!  Then came the hordes, wave after colorful wave running down that Great Street joyfully acknowledging the crowd.  Surely they did not know they had 26 miles to go!!!  35,000 people in a stadium is something we take for granted; it’s even small compared to some and we never notice them unless, of course, the home team homers to win in the bottom of the ninth.  But when they pass by you on a street it’s indescribable, so I won’t even try.

The Chicago Marathon is a beautiful example of City as Text.  You follow the runners with updates on your iPhone, keeping a map handy, especially if you’re an out-of-towner, as you chase after them on the El, trying to catch up at various points on the route.  A word to the wise: buy a day pass on the El, because it’s now completely automated and if you don’t have plenty of loose change you’ll be ready to wage war by the end of the day; as much as it can be a superbly convenient way to traverse the city it is also now quite user-unfriendly; opening it free for the day will reap sheaves of goodwill but of course that makes too much sense!

A little past the halfway point at Malcolm X College we took up the watch again, waiting for the pack to emerge.  The lead runners motored past, unreal in their apparent disregard for the enormity of this race (don’t they know it’s 26 miles?).  We strung out along the sidewalk, waiting for Patrick, scouring each face as it floated by, wondering how he was handling this unseasonable heat as the mercury climbed into the 80’s—Lorraine wasn’t making this any easier; surprising, because not once had she ever been a burden; ah, perhaps it was my presence there!  Oh, Patrick, you’re going to have to earn this one…

After a while I began to focus on the other runners, reasoning that Pat would turn up eventually.  I had some power gels and jelly beans to slip into his hands as he cruised past.  I played the scenario in my mind several times—I would see him coming, gauge his speed, run alongside, and hand over the materials smoothly like two dancers in perfect unison.  Good heavens, there was the chap who had recognized me from the wedding; our eyes met, he waved and wafted on…what were the odds?  There has to be an omen there…

Then I started staring into the eyes of the runners—they were hurting badly after almost 15 miles, their faces strained behind rivers of sweat.  They looked like they wanted to stop but still they continued and at that moment I understood the magnitude of what I was witnessing—thousands and thousands of people running for all kinds of reasons; some, like Patrick, for the memory of dead loved ones, some for Causes, others just to test personal boundaries, some in costumed groups, some alone, pushing, pushing past the pain—how could they do this?—faltering in the heat…

Still they came, with svelte, superbly conditioned bodies or badly out of shape, the thin, short, fat, tall specimens from everywhere plowing through the haze, every step an agonizing reminder of their frailty.  Instinctively I began high-fiving them as they swam past, shouting words of encouragement, willing them to continue.  One runner paused and I said, “C’mon, man, you can do it!”  He looked at me, smiled wanly at my naiveté and ignorance of his pain, then trundled on.  Easy for me to say!   And then, as I watched them labor past us, it finally hit me that although at this moment I was on the sideline watching humanity running for its life, I was very much a part of this magnificent community.  Every time a runner slapped my hand as she passed me, every look of gratitude in his eyes at my encouraging words invited me to join the cause, every cause.

Suddenly all of them—the motley multitudes costumed in every conceivable color and from every walk of life and ethnicity—became my friends and, to me, they were all running for Lorraine.  The metaphor was complete.  Now the tears were flowing freely and—wouldn’t you know it?—Patrick materialized in front of me, high-fiving all of us, hugging his wife, children, my grown-up children—Lorraine’s babies—drenched in sweat and effort.  I ran alongside, muttering something about Lorraine watching over him, heard his wrenching reply, “I need it, man,” stuck my hands in my pocket and handed over the gels and beans only to see him give me back—a pen?!  In my haste I had pulled out a pen with the gels.  Nice going, Kim!  Really smooth!  What do you want, his autograph?  Oh, well, life rarely goes as planned and we were in the thick of it…

From there to Chinatown and another encounter with him.  Five miles left, the worst was yet to come and the last 200 yards—in the unkindest cut of all—uphill!  But he did it—for himself, for Lorraine, for all of us, a magnificent figure amid a host of magnificent figures.  By the time he finished the lead runners had long since gone, their prize money collected and on their way to the next one.  Somehow they were out of place here in the Marathon of the Midwest where running seemed an extension of life and competition for money an anomaly.  This was almost a pure experience, hearkening back to a more innocent time when Amateurs ruled the world, when people did it for love.

The faces at the finish betrayed every known emotion.  For our group it was more than we could have expected—Patrick was our leader, he had taken us beyond the fringe, across the border to a place only few experience, a place where, for a brief moment, we sojourned with Lorraine.   Lorraine did not need it to authenticate her life—she did that on her own.  But this act of courage and generosity imbued our lives and her memory with grandeur—for one moment that will last forever we were part of something greater than all of us.

3 Responses

Write a comment
  1. Beautiful ! You made the race come alive for me. I was there too, with tears welling up in nostalgic memory.

    Doreen Pereira 5 July 2011 at 4:24 pm Permalink
  2. Fantastic. We all loved her very much.

    Derek Pereira. 9 July 2011 at 10:20 pm Permalink
  3. I just love this. LOVE.

    Corrie 2 November 2014 at 11:57 pm Permalink

Write a Comment

Commenter Gravatar