Technically, he is a 67 year old retired pharmacist from Manchester who I had the pleasure of getting to know during the last half of the Seville marathon. During those couple of hours, you can share your life story with people as a way to pass time, and vice versa. Trust me when I say, the pleasure was all mine!
I first encountered Rodney around mile 14. He had an unorthodox running style, and he was maybe running a 12 minute mile. He was struggling, or so I thought. I ran up alongside him and started to chat, "Hang in there, buddy" I said or some such expression. He raised his head and smiled a broad smile and I knew at that moment we'd be spending some time together during the day.
I learned that he was actually a veteran marathoner, having completed 37 previous races of the distance, and three times run the Seville marathon. He also explained that he had sustained a calf injury about 3 weeks before this race and decided to go ahead and run it just the same, even though his normal 4:30 finish time would not be achievable. We shared marathon stories...I asked "Have you run Rome?" ..."Yes, loved it! Watch out for those cobblestones at the end of the race", he replied. "Have you ever run NYC?” he queried. "Of course - fab experience - great crowds!" I said, and so the conversation went.
All along the last half of the race we ran together...he sped up a bit (and thanked me later for spurring him on), and then we paced ourselves against each other. He would run past me, then I past him, and so on. Always sharing words of encouragement to each other as we would run past.
I only know his first name; likewise, he only knows mine. But for 2 hours we shared a common goal: to finish the race. It would not matter at the end of the day who crossed the finish line first - we would celebrate each other's achievement equally.
At about km 38 (or about 4:45 into the race), the Seville race organizers started to pick up the km markers. I can only characterize my reaction to this activity as soul destroying. I still had 4 kilometers left - and the race course was no longer clearly marked. As if he knew I was starting to panic, a "calming", and almost parental voice came from behind me and said "Don't worry, I know the way home", or "the stadium is right around the corner!" He could tell today was not my best run, not my best day. In the final 400 meters, he shouted, "Come on Holly, let's finish this thing"! And we did, although the Hachie Gal was staring at Rodney's backside as he surged past me with a twinkle in his eye. Not that I cared.
Why am I relating this story? Well, running a marathon is a bit like living your life. We each go through peaks and valleys, good times and bad times, highs and lows. Being aware of those around us who are in the dark places, even if it is only a marathon, and sharing a word on encouragement can do wonders for the other person. Sometimes the encourager might not even know the impact his/her words make to the encouragee. Sometimes roles reverse and the encouragee becomes the encourager.
Distance running reminds me of life's lessons at many times....so, for those of you who are running life's race (literally or metaphorically speaking), remember to encourage others who need that extra support. You never know the power your words can have! And for those of you who need encouraging, remember to accept these offers of support and encouragement to help you through that dark place. You can pay it forward on another day.