Classic Chronicle Archives back

Originally published in Runner's World Magazine May 2000

Rally Cap

He had the look. I'd seen it before. It's when your will is more important than your skill, when preparation is replaced by desperation, and when, if you're not careful, fun becomes foolishness. He was there. And we both knew it.

All of us who pin on a number understand that there will be times when we get a little too close to the flame. The passion that drives us to start can sometimes push us to continue even when we shouldn't. We confuse courage with stubbornness. We view quitting not as a reasonable alternative, but as failure.

John Corbett was there. Actually, he had been there for some time. This was his second marathon and by mile 5 he knew that this one would be different. There would be no euphoria, no riding the crest of a runner's high for 26.2 miles. This would be a battle between his body and his soul. He needed to finish. And even he didn't know why.

There's lots of help for people running their first marathon. It seems like they join training programs, buy books, go online and just gather all the information they can. It's fun. It's new. It's unknown. All they know for sure is that someone they know completed a marathon, so they want to also.

But number 2 isn't that way. Your family and friends will forgive you for one moment of insanity. They'll brush aside your first marathon as a mid life crisis, or a celebration of a new lifestyle. They'll support you in that first marathon, they'll understand when you buy lots of neat new stuff, and they'll even brag about what you're doing. They'll be there for you when you need to do your long runs. They'll watch your children, water your plants, and wash your car.

But when you say you're going to run another one, that's a different story. Many times your friends and family will run from you like rats from a sinking ship. Suddenly marathoning doesn't seem like a phase you're going through. It's actually something that you enjoy. And, worse yet, it doesn't look like you're going to return to normal any time soon.

Training for your first marathon you've also got the euphoria of new distances. Every couple of weeks you're reaching new plateaus. Your logbook starts to record distances that astound you. Before long you start talking about going out for a short 5 mile run.

But not the second time. You've been there before, and so, it isn't quite as exciting. It's not that the challenge isn't there, it's that the immediate payoff isn't what it was the first time.

Finishing the first marathon, whether people will admit it or not, is mostly about bragging rights. Sure, there's tremendous personal satisfaction involved. But most of us, if we're honest, would admit that it is TELLING people that we ran a marathon, and watching their reaction, that brings an even greater satisfaction.

Finishing the second marathon, I believe, is for yourself. There's no other reason than that to line up a second time. You've got nothing left to prove to anyone other than yourself. And with all of the support and cheering of the first marathon gone, you are faced with only yourself to rely on.

John knew that. He knew that he had never been more alone in his life. He knew that in this pack of 20,000 runners, he was completely alone. And what he did made a lasting impression on me. At mile 20 he turned his hat around backwards. I looked at him — puzzled. "Rally Cap" is all he said.

With that gesture, John went deep inside himself. He had spent the better part of the past 3 hours rummaging around his psyche for the tools he needed to take him to the finish. He found his rally cap. He had summoned up all the reserves, all the concentration, and all the focus that he had.

Somewhere around mile 25 he disappeared. And as I watched the brim of his cap move slowly away from me, I thought how fortunate he was. So many people live in fear because they don't know if whether who they are is enough. Some people never know. But for John Corbett, the answer that day was a resounding yes.

Waddle on, friends.

Classic Chronicle Archives back