After a trip to the restroom and a gulp of water, I lined up at the back of one of the final waves of the 2018 Surf City Half Marathon race. I was a little nervous about finishing the whole thing knowing that I hadn’t hit my mileage target. The words, I just might die, kept swirling around my head until the race announcer cued the sound for the start of the race.
I slowly inched out over the start line and followed the crowd of runners swiftly kicking their way down Huntington Beach’s stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. I jogged amongst the pack of people for several miles until the crowd began to thin out. The sounds of chatter began to wane as gasps of breath fell in their place, and you can hear, just off in the distance, the cool ocean waves crashing on top of each other trying to taunt the sweaty runners nearby.
My worries about not finishing crept up a little later and wove their way into the pattern of feet rhythmically hitting the pavement. Why the hell would anyone do this? I had thought.
However, just out of the corner of my eye, I tore my attention away from my internal complaining and caught a glance of a large U.S. flag in the hands of a fellow participant. He was trailing another runner in full firefighter gear with the oxygen mask and everything.
The sounds of the group of runners around him grew again with wows of awe and amazement. It was already warm that day, and I was regretting wearing a short-sleeved moisture wicking shirt over an activewear tank top. I couldn’t imagine wearing all that heavy gear while trying to complete a marathon.
They say the first marathon runner, Pheidippides, ran to Athens with the news of victory over the Persians at Marathon—and died after getting one word out. Today, people run the 26 miles or so in groups despite talk from most individuals who think that the distance by foot is impossible.
However, the groups of people, who choose to run the long distance, look deeper and see something greater than the repetitive strides that move them towards the distant horizon. They make new friends, they find a sense of accomplishment, and inspire others to find the confidence and courage in themselves to do more.
For the firefighter who ran the Surf City Marathon hauling 60 to 70 pounds of full fire gear, including a breathing apparatus, it was about the act of charity and altruism.
“I do it for the motivation, but primarily I do it to raise money,” Firefighter Cliff Walker, 51, said during an interview for the Orange County Register. He ended up running his 11th marathon in full gear to raise money for Smiletrain, a charity that repairs cleft lips and palates for children in developing nations, and to promote firefighter fitness, health, and wellness.
Seeing Walker run in full gear and seeing people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and some in wheelchairs or holding canes quieted the chatter about not finishing the race that morning. Hearing a man in his 80’s tell a group of young adults that they should keep moving, as long as their chests don’t hurt, while jogging past you did that too.
I was inspired by all of it, and I realized that, since I finished a half marathon before, I could do so again. And if I can finish today I can truly accomplish nearly anything I put my mind to.
I do my best to try and remember that sheer determination when I strive to accomplish my goals—and I hope I remember it while I continue to train for my first full marathon.