My understanding of the Greek legend of the Marathon is that in 490 B.C. the Persian army had landed in the city of Marathon to punish the Athenians for revolting against the king of Persia. During the battle, a part of the Persian army set out to go to the city of Athens which was 26 miles away. The Athenian army sent Pheidippides, a runner, to Athens to warn them of the invasion. Pheidippides ran the entire 26 miles, told Athens the news, and then died.
"Williameakipeddes!" The General barked. "The enemy has set a bomb, a PU-36 explosive space modulator to be exact, in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on the other side of the city. I need you to run and warn our allies."
"How far is it sir?" Williameakipeddes, who often went by the nickname Meaks, asked.
"Ten miles." the General asnwered, bluish grey cigar smoke billowed from his mouth.
"Can't I just use my cell phone and call the Navy Yard to warn them?"
"No. The signal from the cell phone may activate the device. Now get moving."
Somehow, somewhere, my wife Lauren convinced me to run in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Philadelphia Broad Street 10 Mile Run. It would be nice to run another race together she said. After running for the past year, I thought I was ready for a 10 mile race. My shorter running paces have been about a 10 minute mile. I set my goal for this race at an 11 minute mile, figuring I could run the 10 miles in an Hour and in 50 minutes. On Sunday May 1st 2011 Lauren and I woke up at 4:30 am and headed down to Philly to park the car at the finish line, take a subway 10 miles to the starting line and wait around a bunch of Port-a-Potties with 30,000 other people until the race started. Lauren is faster than me and 20 minutes before the race we separated into our separate color coded corrals. Lauren in the Orange group and me one city block behind her in the Grey corral. This is how Lauren and I run together with her always being far ahead of me.
I was by myself with thousands of other people. I put my ear phones in and hit the play button hoping that songs from Ben Folds, Rob Thomas, Peter Gabriel, G.Love and Special Sauce, Bush and Counting Crows would motivate me before the start. I decided that I would try to beat my 1:50 goal and do the 10 miles in 1:45. At 8:30 AM thousands of runners started the race. Different corrals were released every few minutes. The Grey group slowly marched forward to get to the starting line.
"Which way should I go sir?" Meaks asked the General.
"Go straight down Broad street From Olney Ave, around city hall and finish near the sports complex in the Navy Yard. I will give you the code to disarm the bomb."
"What is the code?" Meaks asked starting to get nervous, butterflies fluttering in his stomach.
" Put this paper bib on, there is a microchip in it. If this chip crosses into the Navy yard in the next hour and fourty five minutes the bomb will disarm." The General peered over his bi-focals and focused on Meaks' wide eyes.
"1:45? 1:45? How about 1:50? Can't I disarm the bomb in and hour-fifty? I think that is do-able." Meaks said with hesitation.
"1:45 or the Navy Yard burns. I have faith in you Meaks."
"What if the enemy sees me?"
"Listen you pansy-ass, I will send about 25,000 decoy runners with you. It will make it harder for the enemy to spot you. But be carefull, the enemy may be out there, if you see the enemy you need to run past them."
"How will I know what they look like?" Meaks asked.
"You'll know. You'll know. Now Go."
A loud air horn blasted and the few thousand people in the Grey corral started to run. I took a deep breath, turned up the volume on my music and I started the race. I felt a bit funny in the beginning of the race trying to find my rhythm and pace being trapped by various people all around me. After the first mile either I broke free of the crowd or the crowd broke free of me and I was in a comfortable zone. G Love's cover of the blues classic "Fixin to Die" was blasting in my ears. I realized that although the beat of the song was good for a running, the idea and words may not be that great in the first mile of a 10 mile run. "I've been walking kind of funny, Lord I believe I am fixin to die."
Meaks weaved his way in, out and through the crowds of decoy runners. He kept his head up and did his best to see if he could identify any of the enemy. There was a sea of decoy runners all around him but mostly in front of him. Meaks knew he would have to push himself to finish in the time required. At mile two Meaks felt confident in his mission, he was keeping a 10:15 mile pace. He did a quick mental check of how he was feeling; breathing good, chest good, legs strong, feet okay, bladder full. Wait, what was that? Bladder full? That's impossible. Meaks had made sure he emptied his bladder about 4 times before the mission. Meaks knew if he stopped he may not make his time. Or even worse, the enemy may recognize him or beat him to the end. Meaks decided to push on.
I felt pretty good when I hit the halfway point I was at 51:42. Still on pace for my new goal. There was an older, heavy set, woman with bad spider veins in her legs in a green top in front of me. I focused on her legs and matched her pace step for step. I figured if she could do this then so could I. She was running in rememberance of someone who died from cancer. Thats what her shirt said.
Running is funny, people of all shapes and sizes can run and looks are often deceiving when it comes to speed.
I ended up distracted by the scenery of city hall and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building on my right. Lauren used to work at PAFA and Maxfield Parrish studied there. I did my best to a get a decent picture of city hall but people kept passing me. Ben Fold's "Effington" came on the music player. Again my music choice was great for running, the lyrics not so much. "I want to die in Effington, Please bury me in Effington."
Williameakipeddes realized he was approaching the center of the city and knew he was halfway to his goal. His bladder did not feel as full and he was keeping a good pace. He spotted an older woman in a green tank top and spider veins. She must be the enemy. This woman was not the first enemy he had encountered. He had determined that there were other enemies. The 60 year old man in the red shorts and knee high socks, the so called team of highschool students in blue T-shirts, the orange clad team of moms and the girls in day-glo yellow and pink, were all enemies that he had systematically picked-off and passed during the first five miles. The older woman in green, how could someone of her shape and size be running faster than him? She must be an enemy. He focused his attention to her legs and tried to match her pace for pace. He would not let the enemy beat him to the finish. He would save the Navy Yard from explosion.
Williameakipeddes kept pace with the Spider Vein lady for the next 20 minutes. She was alone but she was determined. Meaks took advantage of the median in the middle of Broad Street and weaved his way around some decoy runners that were losing their steam. He eventually put himself in the spider vein lady's 8 O'clock position and then muscled past her on her left. Meaks felt invigorated by the increase in his gate and knowing the Navy Yard was only 3 miles away, when the entire left side of his body went numb. The Spider Vein lady must have shot him with a stun ray.
Meaks, as a soldier of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield army knew how to shake off the effects of the stun gun rays. He was hit a second time. The Spider Vein lady was a good shot. He slowed down and took a few sips of the greenish-yellow liquid on the side of the road. He gained his compusure, looked at his timing device and realized he was 1 mile away with 11 some odd minutes to go to stop the explosive device. Meaks looked up and saw the Spider Vein lady had passed him. Determined Meaks started to run as fast as he could. He trailed the Spider Vein lady by about 25 yards. Slowly and surely he closed the gap. Meaks felt as if he was hit by a another stun ray but he continued to press on. He was 10 feet behind the Spider Vein lady as they approached a slight upward hill and an overpass. Meaks decided he would use the cover of the shadows under the overpass to push past the Spider Vein enemy. He was now only a little more than a quarter of a mile away.
Shadows and lights danced in the street as Meaks came out of the cool air of the overpass. He did not see the Spider Vein lady and continued on his current gait and pace. Meaks came down a hill and heard cheers from the decoy runners as he saw the area he needed to cross to prevent the exposion. There! There it was a big banner spread across the road. That must be the area Meaks needed to cross.
Williameakipeddes pushed himself. He felt his knees start to buckle and his chest tighten. He pushed on. He thought he was running as fast as he could. He pushed. He tried to sprint but his body would not let him. Sweat poured down his chest. His face burned from the sun and sweat stung his eyes.
He pushed. He crossed the line. He made it.
Meaks looked up to see the Spider Vein lady a head of him. He looked at his timing device. It read 1:46:43.
Just then the Navy Yard exploded. It burned.
I was finished the race almost two minutes past my goal time. I was disapointed but happy. Lauren finished about 17 minutes before me. It was a great day.
Williameakipeddes sat on the grass of the Navy Yard eating a free soft pretzel and drinking a free bottle of water. He was dissapointed by the fire and failed mission but happy by the light show and the warmth the fire was giving him.