I Was Saved by the Kindness of a Stranger
I couldn’t walk much longer either, as my walk quickly devolved into a limp.
Today, I ran the Boston Marathon. It went well for about 14 miles, and then my legs started building lactic acid. I wasn’t surprised, because I came into it pretty unprepared. Nothing can replace good preparation for a marathon is a lesson I learned a long time ago — not good luck, not the right shoes, not the right course to run on.
In short, I messed up. I should have run a lot more beforehand, but my motivation has been shot for running — I didn’t run much. I thrive on group runs and the social aspect of running. The past six months, COVID has put the dagger in many group runs, so I came in woefully unprepared to this marathon — again.
I did a virtual marathon, which means I ran the whole thing solo. My girlfriend and a friend stopped at various points of a trail for me, but there was some confusion. They didn’t know how fast I was running, so I didn’t see them at some of the checkpoints where they could have seen me. They didn’t see me because they thought I was running faster than I actually was.
By mile 14, I started slowing down to 7:30 mile pace. By mile 17, I started slowing down to 8:30 mile pace. By mile 19, I was running 10-minute mile pace, and I had no chance of speeding up — it wasn’t breathing, which was fine, but the fact that my legs couldn’t take it.
After mile 19, there was a checkpoint I prayed and hoped to God my girlfriend and friend were. I felt like I was about to pass out and collapse. I knew I couldn’t run any more after the checkpoint, so I was planning on stopping. Every step gave my feet a burst of pain, so that I overpronated like crazy. Every step became an immense toil that probably would have hurt me more in the long term.
And so I had to pull the plug. I got to the checkpoint, saying, “Jesus, please be here, Jesus please be here.”
Well, I guess you can tell from the title of this story that they weren’t there. And so I started walking. I was still 7.8 miles away from where my girlfriend and friend were. If I walked there, I thought that I could still run the marathon under four hours if I walked, well, fast enough.
I’m not a big GPS watch person, but my friend lent me his Apple watch. I underestimated how much it needed to be charged because right before the marathon, the watch died. Thankfully, I got up early and was able to charge it to about 50%, and I called my friend, woke him up, and asked him whether the watch would last for about three hours. He said it would, but I felt bad for calling him and waking him up at 6:30 in the morning.
It did not last. At about two hours and 30 minutes, the watch died. I realized I couldn’t walk much longer either, as my walk quickly devolved into a limp. I was going to limp back 7.8 miles. I was in a marathon, and only had a quarter of it to go. I was going to do it. I was not going to fail.
My body, however, did not have the strength of my mind. I realized I was a long way from the finish, and I needed help. Since I passed a person about every 30 seconds, I could ask someone for their help. However, almost everyone I passed was a woman around my age or a child, alone, and despite how horrible I felt, I couldn’t help but feel like I would creep someone out as a shirtless, dead-looking guy limping across a pretty isolated trail. Plus, there’s that thing called COVID still preventing me from getting too close to anyone.
Eventually, about three-quarters of a mile later, I asked an older man biking behind me to help. I sensed a small amount of frustration as I disrupted his equilibrium as he stopped. I wondered if he had a phone on him, and he did. I asked him if he could call my phone, to which he said he did. His name was Mike, and he joked:
“Should I tell your friends I found you passed out on the side of the trail, bleeding, with a gash on the side of your head?”
As bad as I felt, I couldn’t help but laugh. But Mike called my friends, looked on the GPS to see what road was closest, and directed me to walk back up a little bit. He called my girlfriend and friend back to tell them the road, instructed them what exact coordinates and intersection it was, and thanked him.
Before we parted, he told a story about when he and a friend drove in the middle of the desert. The car sank in the sand. They were stranded, and there was not a person in sight, and they thought they were screwed. The closest town was about 10 miles away.
However, in about half an hour, they saw a pick-up truck from across the desert and started waving hysterically at him. The man with a pickup truck came to see if they needed help, and then went back to town to get the tools to pick him up.
I thanked him again, but I will always remember Mike. I limped back a quarter-mile and waited for about 10 minutes, and my girlfriend and my friend arrived. This happened about eight hours ago, and needless to say, I wasn’t in good shape to drive. My friend drove me back, and then I ate and slept for four hours.
It could have been a lot worse.
Well, if Mike’s assistance wasn’t a reminder that God’s gift of unconditional love comes in human form, I don’t know what is. My high school history teacher once told me that when you’re in trouble, you will be shocked and graced by strangers’ kindness, and Mike’s help was proof of that.
Of course, it wasn’t just the love and kindness of a stranger but also my girlfriend and friend who sacrificed their mornings to help me and watch me run. Again, no mattered how much it sucked, it could have been a lot worse, and having that kind of help during a pandemic gave me hope for the future of the world.