I crossed the aptly named “Finish Swine” ten minutes before my father.
Catching my breath, I sent off a text to my wife, letting her and the rest of the Faller / Duff group know I’d finished. I felt I easily could have run farther. My breathing had slowed, my heart had settled to its resting rhythm, and my feet were just beginning to ache in the way I’d gotten used to.
Around me, other runners mingled, greeting friends and family.
“I did it,” one race-weary woman said after crossing the “swine,” engulfing the young man waiting for her in a sweaty hug.
Another man roared triumphantly before collapsing into a fellow runner’s embrace.
Others stood together, arms draped over companions’ shoulders, posing for self-pictures snapped with smart phones.
The other members of Teams Faller and Faller / Duff had joined me by the time our orange-shirted father lumbered over the last hill. The strain and pain showing on his face from the final push dissolved the moment he crossed the line. Meeting him restored the rest of us, too. The aches and pains we’d earned while running our own legs of the race faded, replaced by the warmth and the pride of having run together.
After posing for team pictures, we retrieved our medals, grabbed a banana, cookie, or bag of chips from tables lining the victors’ village, and gathered in a quiet spot overlooking the Ohio River to eat and share our experiences of the race.
I have attempted to tell this story before. Of the details of the race I attempted to capture in those earlier pieces, these are the most vivid:
- how long my wife and father and I waited for my brother Brian to arrive at the third checkpoint;
- how there seemed to be a direct correlation between how quickly my brother-in-law finished his leg and the intensity of the pain he felt behind each of his kneecaps;
- how my mother huffed and chugged a nine-minute mile pace through the hilliest leg of the course;
- how blasted some of the folks I passed along my way to the “Finish Swine” looked – marathoners who’d hit the wall, relayers who hadn’t adequately prepared themselves to run through the day’s unseasonal warmth.
These details aren’t nearly as important as the photographs we posed for at the end of the race, or the suggestion my father made to me while we lingered in Yeatman’s Cove afterward.
He’d seen an article in the Wapakoneta Daily News written by a friend of his, whose family had run a relay marathon together. Times were shared, aches reported; how good a time everyone had was also mentioned.
“You should write up an article,” he said.
I told him I would try.
Why couldn’t I do it?
Logistically, I’ve never been good at writing the kinds of no-nonsense, compressed pieces favored by news outlets. I attempted two different takes on the article and several hand-written sketches, and not a single one of them had taken me anywhere.
What had lingered were the pieces I wrote at the start of this blog: the pain in my knees fading the minute I saw my father’s expression brighten the second he crossed; the photographs we’d taken; the food shared on the concrete steps overlooking a churlish strip of the Ohio River.
Not newsworthy stuff, I don’t think; I’m not so sure it’s the sort of thing I cared sharing in a newspaper, either.
For better or worse, I think, in addition to my struggles, what lay beneath my inability to write my father’s article was a desire to allow the moment to remain momentous. Fleeting. Uncorrupted by any sort of attempt to make things newsworthy.
I recount the experience now in part to try and rectify whatever disappointment I may have caused my father by failing to produce the piece soon after he asked.
(I’m not sure he felt much disappointment, because we never spoke about the article again; but I think it is safe to assume that, if he’d asked me to write the piece, he must have wanted to see it written, and when I failed to produce one, he surely would have felt some shock, however slight.)
There’s a lesson to be learned about the nature of writing here. Some experiences are likely to wilt when one attempts to shoehorn them into a genre that won’t allow for deeper scrutiny, or when one tries to handle them before they’d have a chance to effervesce.
Really, though, what really hangs in mind is this other thing my father said last Christmas. I’m one of five Faller kids, and all of us had gathered together at home for Christmas – evening church on Christmas Eve; dinner and presents after. A workout the morning before.
“Who knows when we’ll all be together like this again,” he said–when and where, and for what reasons, I can’t remember.
A news article: maybe it would have helped capture what those races really meant.
My sister lives in Philadelphia, my brothers in Bowling Green, OH, and Columbus. My wife and I live near Canton. My other sister, her husband, and my parents, still make a home in Wapakoneta. All of us do something to try and keep fit. When we get together, it’s mostly this fitness stuff we talk about.
There’s something in this. I’m not sure what it is. I’m here, at the end of what was supposed to be a short piece, and I’m still struggling to decide whether there’s anything to say. Maybe some things are better left unspoken. Maybe what matters isn’t times or teams or the training or the aches. Maybe what matters is the feeling that there’s something meaningful, something worth trying to figure out, only not with words on a page, but instead with conversation or time spent together.