Jacob Payne was all runner, nothing but legs and lungs. If God designed a bird’s body and wings for flight, Jacob’s was made to run. Jacob was blessed not just with natural speed, but with a body that, for the most part, tolerated the fatigue of long training miles. The weary work of running a hundred miles or more each week never broke him. The miles carved his body, shaving away any flesh that didn’t make him faster. He was small, his torso flat and lean, his arms and legs as thin as the branches of a sapling. Running defined his life.
That is the opening paragraph of “Running Home” the novella at the end of Finding Our Way, my collection of short stories. Jacob is based on my running experiences and on several of my friends and training partners as we trained for and ran the Boston Marathon. I was a taller runner than Jacob, and not quite as fast, but I know what it is like to run near the front of that great race.
I missed being at the marathon in Boston this week. It was one of the very few times in the past half century I was unable to be there. My wife just had knee surgery, so we couldn’t handle the ten hour drive from our home in Virginia back up to Boston. I have run the Boston Marathon twenty-four times, hosted a runner from New Zealand, and worked as an official and as a volunteer. In recent years I have attended the race as an ordinary spectator with some of my old running friends. Not to be there on race day was like Christmas coming without there being a Santa Claus.
I chose a good year not to be at Boston. It was forty degrees with a driving rain and a twenty mile-per-hour head wind. If I had been able, I still would have been out there watching in the rain, but it was nice to sit in my living room, watching the race on television with an old Nike associate joining me and my wife.
Jacob Payne would not have fared well in this year’s race. A marathon is a race of attrition. One-by-one runners break down and fall off the lead pack. This year, the cold, the rain and the headwind caused most of the “greyhounds”, the pre-race favorites to crack. The East African runners from Kenya and Ethiopia fared poorly. The best Americans also fell back. Runners who lacked the unimaginable natural speed of those favorites did well. These are the grinders, the runners who usually scratch and claw their way to finish near those greyhounds but rarely win.
A very good American, Desiree Linden won the Women’s race. She has made Olympic teams and was second at Boston several years ago, but she had never won a major marathon. This was her moment. Seven of the top ten women were Americans. Yuki Kawauchi, a Japanese runner who has been close to the front in many races, blew away from the lone Kenyan in the last mile to win the Men’s race. Six American men joined him in the top ten. Times were slower than in most recent years.
Regardless of the awful weather conditions, it’s still just a foot race. Speed matters, but in weather like they had this year, tenacity matters more. Here’s to the grinders!
Peter Stipe is the author of Finding Our Way; a collection of short stories, and The Art of Love, a novel. Both books are available from Amazon and from high-tide-publications.com Peter Stipe.com Facebook: PeterGStipe