Running 26.2 miles provides plenty of lessons and revelations, but it’s often the unexpected that stand out. Here are four from Sunday in Columbus, Ohio — kindness, helplessness, desperation and yes, more kindness.
After finishing the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, I felt nauseous. I crossed the finish line and walked — very slowly — to grab some energy bars and chocolate milk, then headed over to the area where our bags of dry clothes were kept.
Somehow I didn’t notice the table where volunteers waited to retrieve our bags, which had numbered stickers matching our bibs. In my fog, I saw hundreds of bags on a stretch of grass, so I just wandered over to find mine.
I realized my mistake when a volunteer approached and asked me if I was supposed to be there. I mumbled something incoherent, gave up my search and — starting to feel even worse — lay down on a slope of grass in the sun.
Moments later, as I fought a mental tug-of-war with nausea, the very same volunteer brought my bag to me. She must have looked at the number on my race bib and found my bag. That was incredibly nice of her. She could have been cranky, but chose kindness.
As I lay there on the grass, I noticed a pair of legs maybe 10 feet away. They belonged to another marathon finisher who was bent over and vomiting. I could do absolutely nothing.
I kept one eye open to try to make sure she didn’t keel over or show signs of real trouble. All I could have done would be to signal somehow that she was in distress. I was useless beyond that.
There was comfort in knowing there were plenty of trained medical professionals in the area. I gave a silent thanks for whatever is in those people who learn those skills and are willing to use them, paid or not. If not for them, wonderful events like marathons wouldn’t exist.
Eventually the woman stood up, walked to a different spot and seemed to be recovering. Good for her — not so for me, because it left me to concentrate on my own misery.
Maybe 10 minutes later, I got up to find my running companions. They could tell I was hurting, and we began the slow trudge to our hotel, several (uphill) blocks away. I was getting colder, even though I had managed to put on three of the dry shirts in my bag, in addition to the high-tech “space blanket” given out at the finish line.
Still, I could not get warm enough. As we walked past a massive trash container, I saw several used space blankets inside. I reached in, grabbed one and wrapped it around my shoulders, matching the one I had around my waist.
I understood at that moment the desperation that the homeless or destitute must feel when they rummage in Dumpsters for clothing or worse, food. It’s an unfair comparison, of course. My situation was temporary and not as dire, but the analogy came to mind. It gave me a greater appreciation for, and understanding of, that kind of desperation.
My running companions, with whom I trained for months, kept an eye on me all the way back to the hotel. One of them made sure I had water next to my bed, and he took my room key with him so he could check on me and get help quickly if I needed it. A few hours and a serious nap later, I was fine and (shhhh) celebrating somewhat.
There are many well-known reasons people run marathons, but sometimes they offer surprises and rewards. I owe a major thanks to everyone who showed their humanity on Sunday, especially the volunteer who retrieved my bag, my buddies Ed and Michelle, and our friends and family (and thousands of strangers) who cheered us on.
And I hope the runner who was getting sick near me has recovered and is already planning her next 26.2-mile adventure.