Memorial Marathon

Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Write about a character who suddenly cannot run anymore.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction American Inspirational

Closing my eyes, heaven sent supportive smiles kept me going. The downtown start was jumbled yet quite manageable. I was comfortable beginning with the 12 minute a mile group; quite confident I could finish in no more than the 5 hours I had practice for. Closer to 4 hours was my best-case scenario.

Preparing to run was logistically enjoyable. Had to first find increasing distances of 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-mile running venues. While a challenge, the job turned out to be a set of minor geography tests. Due to a vist with my son in Hong Kong, I was further challenged, and even able to find, long-distance runs that the newly arrived Chinese mainland authorities would not frown upon. My confidence grew to be virtually second nature about this harrier task. When I drive the 26-mile distance now, however, I can't imagine what made me want to run it!

The Murrah building bombing, just seven years previously, brought out an ever-increasing number of memorial runners each year. I figured, at 70, I had better run the 26 miles before I got too old. My six friends murdered in the bombing deserved at least this remembrance effort on my part. I would settle for 5k's after this, rather than try another half-marathon, a distance I had run as a warm-up three weeks before.

The adrenaline kept getting juiced up with the encouraging cheers of all the bystanders as I weaved through one neighborhood after another. Onc couple ahead of me even stopped long enough to get married en route on a nearby front porch. The bride did look striking with her white veil flowing atop her running sweats.

Imaginative youngsters continue to surprise me as my life journey keeps opening up new horizons. Paying attention to the upcoming generations has certainly helped me to age gracefully. To say nothing of helping me develop an expanding appreciation for the bell curve of human diversity.

First gut check came as the small group of a dozen or so of us began to run along the edge of Lake Hefner. Must be the half-way mark, I said to myself, even on short runs, that's when I always have to recommit to the finish. Refocus I did. My stride was even and relatively easy to maintain. How fortunate I was to have had Emmett Holland as my high school track and cross-country coach. He taught great mechanics-which have enabled me to keep running fifty years later without ankle, knee, or hip, difficulties. He was also my Latin teacher--didn't keep up with all the amo, amas, amat world had to offer, however.

Grabbing a paper cup of water as I slowed down past a teen earning volunteer service hours, the time elapsed from the official start time was shouted out by yet another service hour volunteen. The time yelled out let me know I was on track to meet my goal at the finish line. A jolt of energy helped me regain my stride after the short water break slow down. The breeze off the lake was on my back now. My running cohort was still about a dozen.

New neighborhoods, closer to my home, also featured encouraging folks along the curbs. Sunday morning mimosas lubricated many a cheer from the crowd. At one closed off intersection, a mixed-aged trio with amps and instruments plugged into extra-long extension cords filled the mid-morning air with good going, you can do it rhythms.

I figured I had reached the 20-mile mark. Uncharacteristically, there were no official signage to confirm my guess. But then--oh, no! Little by little, my right foot began to hurt. My stride became uneven; then, my hips hurt as they compensated for the uneven gait. All I imagined was that my sock had somehow knotted up on my big toe. It really throbbed. Slowly, I faded and faded and faded as cluster after cluster of marathoners passed me by. My 12 minute a mile pace became only a memory of my hopeful intent. I would be lucky to maintain my ordinary walking pace of a mile each 20 minutes.

I had a flashback to my 10th grade cross-country City finals. Times I had routinely met in previous meets gave me promise of a top-ten finish. Jim Sullivan, later to become an Olympian, was the star of a competing rival school. One-third of the way, shin splits hit both of my legs-I was lucky to finish about 50th! It was the only time my mom had been able to see me race. I was truly disappointed. Her hug did some good, nevertheless.

Approaching the outskirts of downtown, the finish line not yet visible, I let out a deep sigh. This was a gut check like no other. Even half-marathoners and a few 5k-er's were now passing me up. I had to reach deep down to resolve to get to the finish line.

And I did. I thought of my six friends under the rubble of the bombed federal building, which even took the lives of children in a first-floor daycare center. For two friends, a mother and daughter, it was a matter of weeks before their bodies were recovered. For my friends, then; for them--yes, for them, I found the strength to go on.

My son and grandson had come up from Dallas to greet me as I broke the imaginary tape. They waited and waited and waited. It appeared there were no more runners left to enter the finishing chute. The paraphernalia supporting the finish line was being dismantled. Son and grandson both began to be quite worried. Would race officials have any word of an accident or injured runner? If so, would a hospital trip now be on the agenda rather than a celebrational breakfast at an IHOP?

Looking up, they saw me. Limping down the final stretch, there I was, with a fierce determination. The race official also saw me; he stopped taking away the last of the finish line. I struggled across. He told me the overhead clock was not working, but the electronic device I had on my runner's bib would record my time. It would be published, online, with all the others.

So, looking up with a bit of joy, I saluted my murdered friends. Looking ahead, I was energized to speed up to meet for a three person group hug. Closing my eyes, I anticipated, saliva soothing my dried up mouth, some pancakes, maple syrup, and strips of bacon. Smacking my lips, I was able to smile with a deep sigh.

Later, the online report. Racer with bib #3817; male, aged 70 years, 9 months; on April 29, 2012--finished the Oklahoma Memorial Marathon, in just over 6 hours.

The report, however, did not mention how great sitting down, with son and grandson, facing a stack of maple syrup saturated pancakes felt.

January 26, 2024 22:54

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Jim LaFleur
11:00 Feb 08, 2024



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Kerriann Murray
22:03 Feb 07, 2024

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful journey, and what a beautiful story. ❤️. Did you really lose friends in the bombing? Glad I got to read your work!


Joe Forgue
00:36 Feb 11, 2024

Yes, six in the bombing itself, and another through "guilt suicide" a few months later. I also started working at the Federal Prison where McVeigh and Nichols were pretrial inmates on May 30th as a chaplain.


Kerriann Murray
00:51 Feb 11, 2024

I'm so sorry for your loss. I hope the writing is therapeutic somehow. What a horrible, horrible thing it was. ❤️


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