NICHOLAS VS. THE ROCK An Epic in the First Person

Mile 0

I wake at 5am, dress and get ready. I have slept only six hours but feel well rested having slept 10 hours the night before. I get myself mentally prepared as I drive to my friend's house to carpool to The Rock. When we arrive we spend a few minutes chatting and then depart. It is cold. When we get to the start of The Rock, we do all of our necessary last minute things. We gather at the beginning of The Rock and joke and laugh caught up in our excitement of the journey we are about to embark on. Each hoping we will all achieve our goals and dreams for ourselves within that journey, separately, but together. We stand and The Rock awaits the gun along with us.

Mile 1

I run and feel fine. I try to slow my pace but the excitement is too much to contain. My first mile with Manuel is too fast about an 8:20 pace. Still, I am able to settle a little and warm up in the cold of the morning and get to my comfortable running zone. The Rock is silent.

Mile 2

I am still too fast. About an 8:20 pace. I try to slow down. It is a strange feeling to force myself to go slower rather than faster. Still I know I must if I am to push myself later in the journey. The Rock is still silent.

Mile 3

Manuel and I settle in. This mile is about at an 8:35 pace. Exactly where I want to be. We are able to talk now and are over the first few mile jitters and we are starting to relax and enjoy the journey. The Rock says nothing.

Mile 4

A group of people from Luke's Running Store is at this milepost and they cheer us on and encourage us to run on. They have refreshments and I make sure to get some knowing what The Rock has in store for me later in the day. It is a joyous break and we all laugh at The Rock and continue on in great spirits.

Mile 5

Manuel says this mile was about 8:12. Hopefully this was a short measurement; because others around us have the same feeling and none of us want to be running this fast this early. The Rock merely shrugs its indifference. I feel great.

Mile 6

A friend of ours needs to find the aid station as we near the refreshments of this milepost. His calf is tightening up and he has already had to stop once. As he makes his way to the aid station I hear the first of The Rock's deep rumbling laughter.

Miles 7 to 14

I am given refreshments by hippies. Elvis offers me a donut. I start running along the White Rock Lake and marvel at how pretty the surface is like glass on this beautiful day for running. I remark the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour and that we all need to slow down and share a laugh at The Rock with those I am making the journey.

At mile 13 I hear The Rock question my resolve when I feel a twinge in my right knee. I continue undaunted. People cheer and encourage me. I wave and say my thanks back. I see people from the Leukemia Society Team in Training and share my joy with them. I see two small boys running alongside runners catching glimpses of dreams that they may one day fulfill. I share encouragement with the people around me and this is some of the best running I have ever experienced. I don't think that The Rock is even present because it is silent.

Mile 15

The Rock rears its head and makes its presence known. My legs are not functioning as well as I had hoped. My pace has dropped some but I expected that and hope it does not continue. Manuel suggests we take it a little slow the next mile. I agree.

Mile 16

I can't keep the pace that Manuel needs to run. He continues on and I know that now I need to run MY race and no one else's. The Rock chuckles as I build my resolve for the next ten miles.

Mile 17

I don't remember mile 17…

Mile 18

Here is where the Marathon has begun. I feel nothing but exhaustion. The Rock reminds me that in my training runs after 18 miles that is when I had my most trouble. I answer The Rock with new enthusiasm and the confidence I have gained from finishing all my training runs. I look at the bracelet on my wrist and continue on.

Mile 19

Fatigue is setting in and my form has drastically deteriorated. The Rock tells me to stop and give in and save myself the work and pain. I answer The Rock with the reply that that is why I came here. A small two-year old boy holds out his hand from his mother's arms and I tap it with two fingers as I pass. His squeal of delight and smile will carry me to mile 20.

Mile 20

Show me "the Hill". Show me the wall. For I will scale it or knock it down but it will not stand in my way. The climb up this hill is excruciating and The Rock howls its disdain for me but I rage on against gravity and exhaustion. I will not stop.

Mile 21

My legs are cramping. I can't get my left knee to flex properly. I look at my bracelet and remember what chemotherapy is like and remind myself that what I feel is nothing. The Rock laughs and calls me puny and tells me I will have to stop when I am injured. It is wrong.

Mile 22

My coach comes alongside me and I shout at him that I can't get my leg to flex properly. He says to keep going and it will all be over soon. The hill is done and the wall has been surpassed.

Mile 23

Some one passing me asks me how I am doing. I say I can't get my legs to flex properly. I don't realize it yet but I have seen this person on the course before and will see him again in the next two days. Both are now starting to stop flexing and I am greatly slowed and pain is starting to set in. My body and The Rock cry in unison for me to stop, but I was brought here by greater things and will not let lesser things stop me.

Mile 24

I run briefly with a man with one leg before I pass him. His unbelievable courage and determination spur me on. I cannot give up now. I become aware that my arms are now sore from having to carry them the past 23 miles. I change my pace to avoid the onset of injury. The tightness and pain in my quadriceps and knees will not go away. I speed up when possible but must slow down when my muscles cramp and shoot daggers through the back of my knees and calves. I look at the bracelet on my wrist. I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED. The Rock laughs.

Mile 25

I cannot focus on anything but getting through the pain that I feel. I am close to my goal of under a 4-hour marathon. The Rock laughs at me and tells me it cannot be done. I scream in pain and frighten my fellow travelers. But I continue on and rage once again against pain, exhaustion and time.

Mile 26

All pain melts away as I feel my body go into shock and I get light headed. I see the finish line and nothing else. My body moves by sheer will because I cannot feel it.

Mile 26.2

I hear them call my number and announce my finish as a first time marathoner. I throw up my arms in victory even though I have not achieved my goal and I hear The Rock's laughter. I was 59 seconds short. It doesn't matter. I've finished.

Beyond Mile 26.2

I am taken to the medical tent because I couldn't get my legs to function and had tunnel vision. I lay on a cot for about 20 minutes and drink fluid and someone massages my legs for me. I think about The Rock and the challenge I faced. I hear its laughter but it doesn't affect me. The Rock will not change. I gave all I had and did not give up. And I have changed. I have grown and I am better person for it.

After I get out of the medical tent I go wait in a line for food. I talk with a mother who asks about my Team in Training shirt. I tell her about the program and she introduces me to her two-year-old son who is in his second month of remission from Leukemia. I squat down and shake his hand and congratulate him on his victory. As I stand I smile to myself and have a laugh in the face of The Rock. Manuel asks me if I'm okay. I tell him that when you rage against the darkness for a good cause sometimes you get hurt. He agrees.

Two days later I meet my honored patient Kaitlyn Wade and her wonderful family for the first time. She is beautiful. Her hair is already down to her shoulders again. I talk with her and her family over dinner at a deli and enjoy all of the company. I find out that her father was the one who asked me how I was doing in the race and we talk a little about running. I say I will never run another marathon because I can still hear the laughter of The Rock in my ears.

Soon it is time to go and I walk with Kaitlyn and her family out to their cars. When we get Kaitlyn into her car seat she demands a hug and a kiss before I go and I gladly give it, only she won't let go of my fingers. She says she is never going to let go. Finally, I pry my fingers loose and I wave and say goodbye.

But in that tiny little moment before she lets go, the laughter of The Rock is silenced forever.

Copyright © 1998 Nicholas Welsh