MARATHON AND BEYOND MAGAZINE:
Reflections on the end of 20 years with a running partner.
A friend of mine died today. He was my running partner for 20 years. I watched him go through a long divorce and fight a bout with cancer. He was a trooper. We were exactly the same height and weight so our bodies reacted the same on long training runs. We ran every race together.
As younger men we were of one mind as competitive runners, always scheming to better our race times by trying the latest shoes, clothing and training techniques. But, over the years our ideas about running began to diverge. While he continued to be absorbed with his quest for faster times, I discovered that running let me stop being a slave to thinking at all. We remained virtual alter egos, but each with different reasons for running. His was to achieve PR’s, mine to unlock my inner self.
I knew his wife well. She was not an athlete and struggled to accommodate the changes we adopted in our lifestyles as we pursued our running. Their relationship was like many others between runners and non-runners. There was conflict over diets and naps after long runs. As their marital problems mounted his runs changed from a joy to an escape. When the marriage ended it was not because of running, but running was all he had left.
Over the years we struggled to find common ground in our philosophies of running and, eventually, life itself. We agonized and argued over which approach was best. Always the disciplined soldier, he believed that the purpose of life’s journey, like a long run, was to arrive at one’s destination…to rate one’s accomplishments against past performances or future goals. For him the journey was comprised of thousands of steps measured by time and space.
I argued that there was an alternative….that the importance of the journey was not how it compared to the past or the future, but rather the quality of each step along the way.
My friend devoted much of his life to avoiding adversity, seeking always to find an “ideal” formula for personal fulfillment and success. In his running, fatigue and pain were enemies to be out smarted in order to accomplish his goals.
Rather than avoiding adversity, distance running taught me how to accept it as part of a larger positive experience. This approach helped me to achieve a better sense of perspective and balance not only in running but in life.
In his heart, he knew I was right, but he was afraid to admit it….afraid to leave behind his competitive philosophy even though it took an ever increasing toll on his physical and mental health. I worried about him, about us. But, I loved him and hoped for the best.
The end came quietly today after we shared a grueling 15 miler. I felt tired but renewed at the end of the run. He had been unusually quiet and I was encouraged because he seemed more at peace than before. It happened as we rested together on a bench in the park, dripping with perspiration. No one called an ambulance. He just smiled and slipped away, leaving me alone in the twilight. As I walked to my car I knew we were both better for it because, you see, he was also me.
Malcolm D. Gibson
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