As Iron Sharpens Iron*
Three point one miles to go. A 5K. Fourteen miles already logged in the last 12 hours. One and a half hours' sleep in the last 30. Exhaustion and adrenaline battled for my attention as I awaited my teammate's arrival. A quick hug. Passing of the baton. I was off. Immediately I knew I was running too fast. Common sense screamed at me to slow down. Desire to outperform myself pressured me to keep moving.
Feet slapping behind me. A runner, poised to pass. Just behind me now. Pass me and get it over with, I thought. Settling in behind my left shoulder, keeping pace with me. Pass me! my mind shouted. Realization struck: He's staying put. Bright, hot anger erupted through my exhaustion. Already doubting my ability to keep pace for myself it infuriated me to think of pacing another runner. Slow down and he'll pass you. But I didn't slow down. Despite my anger, maybe because of it, his presence drove me. Finally, I spoke aloud. “You'll pace off me till we're nearly finished then you'll blow by me.” His reply: “I'm an ultra runner. I have another leg after this one. There's nothing left in my tank.” That comment changed my reaction to him. Covering the 200 miles of this relay race with 11 teammates was tough. Ultra teams do it with 2 to 6 runners. He was spent too, and he had more miles to run once I'd finished.
Exhausted enough to cry, my body screamed at me to stop. Pushing myself, I covered ground. Fatigue finally outpaced adrenaline. I couldn't keep up the pace. I especially couldn't keep the pace for two people. I told him so, knowing he'd pass me and soon be out of sight. He passed, but rather than pulling ahead settled in just ahead of me, asking if I could keep that pace. So tired. Just slow down, I thought. But I couldn't. Minutes seemed like hours. Slow down. Keep moving. I couldn't take much more. Just as I was ready to walk, a blessed downhill grade. Transition area in sight. Thank God! In the last moments, his energy gave out and I began to overtake him. Suddenly, who crossed the line first didn't matter. Not true. He could cross first. I wouldn't finish before him. If not for his annoying presence behind me those first miles I'd have quit. If not for his sportsmanlike attitude when he took the lead, I could never have finished in the time I did. Keeping pace with him, we crossed the line together.
I don't know his name. I'll never see him again. If I do, I won't recognize him. Strange, how a person whose path crosses yours so briefly can have such an impact. On my own could have done it? With his help I'd run my fastest 5K.
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