(June 22, 2005)
I saw the Pirate first.
He was sitting by himself in the crowded Duluth Convention Center looking for a connection.
I was at the Grandma’s Marathon pre-race spaghetti dinner in Duluth, Minnesota, and although I had found a couple empty seats across the aisle, my wife sat down in the empty seats next to the Pirate and called me over.
Now I’ll say that Lorrie is fairly observant, but she later told me that she had not noticed the Pirate’s green beanie with propeller, and the shower curtain earrings.
I had seen the Pirate before in Toledo at the 2004 Glass City Marathon. He’s hard to miss.
In 2004, after finishing my marathon relay leg, I heard an odd — smackity-smack, smackity-smack. The Pirate was completing a 26.2 mile race in pink shower curtain earrings, tight black running shorts, and flip-flops.
At last Friday’s pasta dinner, he launched into rapid detail of his bus trip from Chicago to Duluth, his 187 marathons, and his shower curtain ring collection as Lorrie tried in vain to finish her pasta dinner.
So at next morning’s marathon start 26.2 miles away from Duluth in Two Harbors, Minnesota, I sought the Pirate for comic relief. But his wild attire, and the sound of his flip-flops were swallowed by the National Anthems, an F16 flyover, and the great initial movement of 7,000 runners along the Lake Superior shoreline.
At Mile 18, I lost Lorrie as she moved up in the pack, and I began to develop that anonymous familiarity with the other muckers struggling to finish. At Mile 22, the pain was shared in small groups: “Chattanooga, Tennessee woman” to my right, “red-baseball-cap guy” to my left, “Bemidji sisters” up front, the “Run-for-Jesus guy,” who gains, then falls back, then gains again.
This is no time for introductions, the language is non-verbal, instinctive, sharp, like a parent sensing and sharing their child’s discomfort.
Which was crystallized in the final mile by “pony-tail girl.”
In the three turns before the final segment to the finish line, the crowd delivers a constant refrain of “you’re almost there,” which is dashed by another twist or turn. In the final mile of a marathon “almost there” sounds like 50 feet, but feels like a half mile.
As I tried to shave yards off another turn a woman appeared in front of me with a purse slung over her shoulder and black heels.
“Clop, clop, clop, clop, clop,” went her heels on the cobblestone of Canal Park as she put herself right behind “pony-tail girl” and in front of me.
“Keep going, baby, you’re so close,” she said to 20-something “pony-tail girl,” who had begun to weave.
“Clop, clop, clop, clop.”
She ran with her daughter on the race course for almost 200 yards, rubbing her back, squeezing her shoulders, pleading with her to keep moving, willing her with another 200 yards.
At first I cringed, because the shortest line and the quickest way to end my pain was through this woman with the heels and purse.
But being a father, I recognized the same unquenchable, run-through-a-wall fever that comes from seeing your kid in pain.
With the balloon-decked finish only 100 yards away, she finally released “pony-tail girl,” and moved over to the side of the course. The “clop, clop, clops” became less rapid, and a final “you got it, baby, don’t stop” rang in our ears.
“Pony-tail girl” and I crossed together, timing chips chirping.
Even though it was Father’s Day, I’d like to thank mom for the help.