I was rummaging through a box overflowing with a lifetime of running memories—bib numbers, photos, race booklets, etc—and came across a poem. I can’t recall where I’d picked it up, but I had run my first marathon in 1981, so there is a lot of ground to cover, figuratively speaking. The worn and yellowed paper it was printed on was a clue it was from my earliest running days. Someone probably saw its thirty-two stanzas and figured it was the marathon of poems, so they gave it to me.
The Race is written by an anonymous author. It begins:
Quit, give up, you’re beaten,
They shout at me and plead,
There’s just too much against you now,
This time you can’t succeed.
And as I start to hang my head
In front of failure’s face,
My downward fall is broken
By the memory of a race
And hope refills my weakened will
As I recall that scene,
For just the thought of that short race
Rejuvenates my being.
The runner goes on to fall three times during the race, but each time he gets back on his feet and continues. His resilience wins the hearts of the crowd.
But when the fallen youngster crossed the line last place,
The crowd gave him the greater cheer for finishing the race.
And even though he came in last
With head bowed low unproud,
You would have thought he won the race
To listen to the crowd.
Though the poem is about running a race, the message is about perseverance and determination. It is about getting up when life knocks you down, and that you don’t have to come in first place to win. In a Seinfeld episode, Jerry makes a remark while watching the New York Marathon, “Ah, what’s to see? A woman from Norway, a guy from Kenya and 20,000 losers.” Sorry Jerry, those other 20,000 runners just gutted-out 26.2 miles, a remarkable endurance feat that only a fraction of the population will ever attempt.
The Race reminded me of the article Worth The Wait by Rick Reilly that I’d written about in a May blog. The article is about a courageous high school cross-country runner with cerebral palsy who stumbles and crashes his body into the ground most races, but crosses the finish line each time to the cheers and tears of teammates and fans from both teams. He is bloody and bruised, but never broken.
I titled that May blog Required Reading for Distance Runners, but after I read the poem, I felt they both are required reading not only for runners, but for anyone needing a shot of inspiration. Both the poem and the story are inspiring tributes to all who stumble, get back on their feet and finish the race.
Runners don’t have the corner on the market of inspiration. The same stuff that marathoners dig for at mile twenty to get through the “Six miles of truth,” is the same stuff that a student needs late at night the week before finals. A marathoner might blast The Killers on their iPod for motivation to get through the final miles, the same way a writer might pull a magical passage from a desk drawer to break through writer’s block, or an artist retreats to a serene mountain setting at sunset to find the inspiration needed to release their best work on canvas.