At some point on Sunday afternoon between having 3/4 of a mile left to complete the Marathon and 1/2 of a mile to go, I made the acquaintance of a fellow runner. I came to learn after the race that my Sole Brother's name was Greg Paglia. However, at the time that he and I were completing our journey together I knew him only as Bib #2063.
From the time we fell in together, we ran in close proximity to one another. There was no sense of competition in our strides. Neither of us was trying to edge ahead of the other. Rather, there was a spirit of kinship, of shared purpose if you will. Each of us felt as if our load had been lightened by the emergence of a comrade in feet with whom he could share it.
It turned out that his family was located about thirty-five or fifty feet or so further from the finish line than where Margaret was waiting for me - along with our cadre (Gidg, Jeff, Brooke and Mike). I do not know whether Greg's family proposed doing to him what my wife admitted to me she proposed doing to me, which was making a sign that read, "We Were Here. You Weren't. We Left" and then hightailing it over to Rooney's for $5.00 Bloody Marys and $5.00 Mimosas.
Greg had moved on out to a gap of perhaps twenty feet ahead of me when I saw him see his family - leaning up against the rail - as they cheered him on. He has a very young child (a little girl I think - based upon the brief glimpse I caught of her) and his wife was holding the infant in her arms as he ran past. He did the most extraordinary thing. He stopped, albeit only for a moment, and ran back towards his wife and baby so that he could give the baby a kiss. There, less than one hundred feet from the dime he had been chasing for more than four and one-half hours, it was more important to him to take a half-dozen steps backwards than it was to take the first of three dozen or so more forward and across the finish line.
I reached where he was just as he was completing the act of saying "Hello/Goodbye" to his wife and child. I tapped him on the shoulder as I ran past him and when he turned to look my direction he smiled as if he had just seen a brother he had given up for dead or some such thing. I slowed momentarily so that he could bridge the short distance between the two of us, which he did. From that point forward, we ran together, as exhilarated as we were exhausted, to the finish line.
Neither one of us came close to finishing first. Truth be told, we finished closer to the pack's back than its front. Yet, looking at us as we finally reached our destination, one would have been forgiven for thinking - even if just for a moment - that we were the day's big winners.
Bib #1465 and Bib #2063
Finish Line - New Jersey Marathon
Then again, who is to say that were were not? I have no delusions of grandeur when I sign up for a marathon. I participate in them for the purpose of testing my mind and my body's ability to endure discomfort. I also participate in them so that I can meet - even if only briefly - fellow travelers such as Bib #2063. No one appreciates the journey as much as one who has endured it himself. It is not every day that you meet a stranger who has in fact walked a mile in your shoes...
...let alone has actually covered 26.2 miles in them.