In 2003, Bart and I stood at the same Painter's Half Marathon starting line. The course was very familiar to me; hilly and tough. For both of us, our running had been very consistent and going very well, so we were excited to see what the day would bring. Bart gently said to me, "You're good for under 1 hour 40 minutes today". I just shook my head and laughed, you gotta be out of your mind. Bart said, "No, I've been keeping track of your times, you have it in you. I'm gonna find someone for you to run with".
Next thing I knew Bart asked our friend Stephan, "What are you good for today?". Stephan, "Slow. I just want to finish". Bart made several more inquires then our friend Tony said, "Hey Bart, I'm just taking it easy today. What's up?". Bart said, "Looking for someone for Eve to run with. She's good for under 1:40". With that Tony said, "Well, 1:40 is what we'll run today".
At that moment, the weight of the world rested squarely on my shoulders. This run was about to become a complete embarrassment to me. I turned to Bart and whispered, "I can't do it".
Boom, the start gun fired and off we went with Tony right by my side. He looked over at me and said, "Where's your watch?". Me, "I don't like to where one. You don't have to run with me Tony. Really, it's okay. Go on ahead". Tony laughed and said, "No, we're gonna have fun!".
As we ran Tony chatted away telling me all kinds of stories. It was fun listening to him. We ran past the first mile marker, and Tony looked at his watch and didn't say anything. When we ran past the second mile marker, he glanced at his watch and said, "It's alright. I've started many races under pace before and still did fine". My heart sunk.
We continued on our run with Tony telling me one story after the other, and I realized that no matter the outcome of my run, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to have him share all these wonderful stories with me. I also started to realize that I was barely able to talk back to him anymore with more than two words. I could barely get out a "wow" and an "uh huh". We were moving quickly now.
Before I knew it, we were approaching Bloomington Hills. This is the toughest part of the course, and I thought I'll never be able to hang on to this pace. It was at this point, as we started to climb the hills, that Tony said to me, "You know, this is the race two years ago where Bart and I ran together and had the best run", and he proceeded to tell me his version of his most memorable run with Bart. What a thrill for me to hear the story from Tony's perspective. It had such a powerful impression on both of them. I couldn't wait to tell Bart all about it.
I had been so captivated by Tony's story that the toughest part of the course flew by. I looked up and we were over the top and on our way making the sweeping bend back down the hill.
Once down the hill, we made a sharp left and had about 5k to go. Tony quickly started to pull away from me. I couldn't keep up with him. For the first time in the race I was running alone and a sadness fell over me like a heavy blanket. I said to myself, well it's all me now, but I thought if I could just keep Tony in my line of sight, it wouldn't be such a bad run after all.
I was pushing with all I had left in me, barely keeping Tony in my sight. With about half a mile to go, I could see Bart waiting for me, expressionless, looking at me then at his watch then back at me. When I got close enough for him to hear me I said, "I don't even want to know". Bart just said, "Hang in there Evie". I was so completely disappointed.
The finish line for the race is impossible to see until you have about 200 meters to go. You pop up over a dirt hill, and there it is. I couldn't read the time clock. It was just a blur, but I could see Tony waiting just beyond the finish line. He saw me, and I could hear him yell, "COME ON!". I just focused on him and ran with all my might crossing under the finish line banner in 1:39:58. I couldn't believe it.
Just like Bart and Tony, the Painter's Half Marathon would too become one of my most memorable runs that I reflect back upon with a smile after all these years.