My First Marathon

 In April, 1982, I was at a function in New York and one evening our host Sri Chinmoy inquired of those present if any of us were proposing to run in the Boston Marathon, only two days away. Nobody was. Clearly disappointed, he asked whether any of us would now do so – about a dozen of us now raised our hands, myself goaded into acquiescence by an impulsive friend, and we filed past our smiling Guru on the stage. I was astonished by this sudden turn of events and amazed by my own mad act of abandonment – my first entirely unintended marathon! The next night around 9pm we caught our old blue bus for the overnight trip and now there we were, start time for the great Boston race.

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 We flew down the hill at a fantastic pace, trailing the greatest marathoners on the planet – I recognized Alberto Salazar, Bill Rodgers, Dick Beardsley and a host of other legends, and cast aside all common sense in the exhilaration of these first few crazy, high velocity miles, impervious to all misfortune. But misfortune eventually came  – and at 20 miles I remember slowing to a walk and shuffling up the aptly named Heartbreak Hill, much chastened by this first experience of ‘the wall’.  Salazar won in the time of 2:08:51 – the race became known as ‘the duel in the sun’, this great rivalry between the best marathoners of their time. I limped across the line in 3:20, and remember a solicitous official wrapping a space blanket around me as I tottered about looking for our bus.

Racing down our avenue of dreams we had felt like champions, that first thrilling mile a gauntlet of cheering, rapturous crowds – now, 42kms of America’s countryside behind me, I staggered over the finish line, my geriatric, unresponsive legs refusing to co-operate in any further attempt at locomotion. But on the bus ride home, that quiet pleasure of the heart, Sri Chinmoy’s smiling interest in our stories, the deep inner sense of satisfaction in having said ‘yes!’ to life, in daring to try, the  soul’s gladness.

The experience was one of those first glimpses of the disciple years ahead, the manner in which we would be taken far beyond our comforts and customary ways and open doors to many great adventures and discoveries. Running the marathon was part of our spiritual training, teaching us fearlessness, confidence, self- discovery, transcendence and the principal role of grace in the lives of those blessed to have a Teacher. I am the marathon Guru, he said to us, only half jokingly, and all of you will have to run at least one marathon before you go to Heaven.

 

~ Jogyata Dallas