"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
For exactly 21 minutes, it was nostalgic. We padded past the same cane fields and pastures of red cows and snowy egrets that we'd known three years before. This was the second Great Hawaiian Footrace, commencing last April on Oahu's north shore. It would take the 46 entrants of assorted ability, sex and motive a lap and a half around that island, then (and this was new) conclude with a lap of Maui, 18 days of running in all, a total of 500,000 meters or 312 miles.
Every day we would camp in beach parks, except for the four nights we hit Honolulu, when we would be lodged at the venerable Moana Hotel. Every morning we would load our tent city into vans and run from 10 to 23 miles to the next chosen stand of ironwoods or palms, the next sapphire bay.
But rumination on these blessings or even my smug recollection of actually having won the race in 1979, ended for good after three miles. John McCormack, 32, a fireman from Brooklyn, took the pace from seven minutes per mile, which had been our average throughout the first race, to 6:30, and a couple of miles later to 6:00, and then 5:50. I ran a step behind him, the others falling away, and surreptitiously checked the times between mileposts. It is a long race. So even though the day was cool at 70° and the wind was at our backs, the pace seemed an extravagant risk. The eighth mile was 5:43. I eased and McCormack went smoothly on to win the 18½-mile first leg in 1:55:38. I was a minute back, feeling mildly betrayed. McCormack had run 15½ minutes faster than my old friend Leon Henderson and I had over the same first leg in 1979. In fact, Henderson and I had controlled much of the pace in the inaugural adventure. As a result, those weeks, in memory at least, were colored less by competition than by discovery. We had marveled at Hawaii's varied landscape and at vivid characters among the participants, not least of which was the race's originator, Dr. Jack Scaff. Competition is alien to Scaff. His joy is not to vanquish but to teach, to astonish, even if he has to make something up to do it. Scaff was running with us, talking a great race. The real organizer of the trek was his wife, Donna, who during the running parts of our days directed a loyal crew in handing out drinks and ice from our accompanying vans every 3½ miles.
I'd felt a childish relief at returning the rental car I'd had for a week of acclimation. I didn't even have to drive any more now, only run and be given catered dinners, entertainment and free electrocardiograms. Well, not quite free. The entry fee of $1,200 covered the food and lodging. The electrocardiograms were for those of us who were subjects in a research study on the effect of our mileage on heart enzymes. On four mornings we surrendered 25 cc of blood to Rudy Dressendorfer, Ph.D. of the William Beaumont Hospital near Detroit. As well, there were less painful nutrition and urine studies.
But the main worry now was McCormack. "I'm going to win it," he had said in a letter to Donna Scaff. "I was third in the first one, and that race showed me my potential for this day-after-day running. I've trained hard, and I'm going to take it to him."
On the first day McCormack had slowed slightly as it grew warmer, but he seemed to recover well, putting on a blue rain suit after finishing and staying out of the sun. My thoughts were more of myself. I had found that when McCormack was out in front and racing, no matter if it was the first day, I was incapable of not trying to stay close. This was nostalgia of a sort, too. I had run in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic marathons. In recent years, because of lingering injuries and the press of travel, I had raced little, beginning to imagine it a phase I had departed. Now I was sound and in fair condition. And, it seemed, the battle reflexes were still there.
Yet fitness and competitiveness wouldn't be enough. Unlike almost any other event since the transcontinental Bunion Derby of the '20s, the Great Hawaiian Footrace calls for hard running every day (an average of 17.5 miles). Thus its structure (to the chagrin of Jack Scaff, who hadn't imagined that what he'd conceived as a three-week running vacation would turn out this way) resembles bicycle races such as the Tour de France. But running is absolutely not like cycling in one crucial respect. Runners pound the roads. Cyclists do not. The shock fatigue that accumulates from absorbing about 2½ times one's own weight with every footfall prevents runners from being able to do the five-to eight-hour daily grinds of cycling tours. It is also why runners can train only about 40% as long as swimmers, rowers or other athletes who don't constantly slam parts of themselves against the ground.
Many runners, including this one, need one or two or three days of easy jogging after every hard or long run to recover fully from the pounding. The Great Hawaiian Footrace, because it allows no such days, presents a clear problem of managing one's own disintegration. "Our results from the 1979 race," said Dressendorfer, who has found the event an unsurpassed opportunity to study the biochemistry of fatigue, "show that once someone's legs are sore, they stay sore the rest of the way. There is no recovery from any breakdown." Even the two-day rest we would get after 10 days of racing, before we flew to Maui, wouldn't be enough to restore road-pounded muscle.
Every day was a race, but a race that couldn't be run so hard that it jeopardized future days.
We were at Mokuleia Beach Park. I swam above a beautiful reef, but I grew cold almost at once, the sea less hospitable than before. Jack Scaff's son, Jackson, 13, was stung by a Portuguese man-of-war and sat in camp fighting the pain: There were broad welts across his back as if he'd been whipped.
In cool mists we began the second day, sleepy, stiff, chuckling about Scaff's lecture the night before on how to deal with attacking dogs, a bane to runners everywhere. "They won't bite anything that submits to their territoriality, and the sign of submission is getting lower than their heads," he said in perfect seriousness. "So stop if they chase you, and crouch down...."
By then he was shouting through a storm of heckling. "You mean I gotta choose between being bitten in the leg and being bitten in the face?" said Henderson.
"And what about cats?" yelled McCormack.
After three miles the road became the rutted, twisting track across Kaena Point. The deeper holes were filled with water. Black lava rocks rise out of the sea, and the scene is one of compelling severity, but I didn't catch more than a glimpse or two of it during those six miles because I was desperately concentrating on the footing. Five of us alternated the lead. Then I began to make mistakes, choosing the wrong side of a hole to skirt and getting hung up in the brush, sliding into mud up to my ankles. Once I went down, a rock chewing up my palm. I staggered onto the smooth road for the last nine miles in fourth place. Kris Krichko of Eugene, Ore., a fine cross-country skier, ran powerfully ahead. I decided to just roll gently in. Save it for tomorrow, a 23-mile day. I took shelter from the wind behind Don Zaph of Boise, Idaho. Then McCormack weakened up ahead and we caught him. I didn't pick up the pace but found myself alone in second at the finish in Waianae, where I washed off about two pounds of dried mud in the ocean.
We were divided into serious competitors, who would eventually be ranked on a basis of accumulated time, and "adventurers" who timed themselves and could stop their watches while they ate, swam or shopped. Sometimes three hours went by between the hard racers and these happy explorers who arrived with word of bittersweet-nugget milk shakes. While the field came in I lay on the shell-strewn beach and thought carefully about this McCormack. I had gotten my minute back, so we were even on elapsed time. If this were to develop into a sustained duel, I had to come to some conclusions that would let me take advantage of my strengths and minimize his. Again, the heat at the end of the run had seemed to reach him. His best marathon was 20 minutes slower than mine, but that was offset by his durability. In 1979 he had won most of the last legs, finishing freshest of all. Though I could probably run faster on a given leg, I would pay for such speed with successive days of vulnerability to injury. The strategy suggested by all this was to stay close, if possible, and wait, and perhaps on a hot day to take back with one strong bite what he had nibbled away.
The dawn of the third day was clear and still and dry. "I guarantee you heat," said Scaff. We were off by 6:30, down the busy Farrington Highway. After an hour, the lead pack of five marched through 10 miles of cane fields, huge trucks roaring past our elbows. A wind came up against us and we all drafted along behind McCormack. Instead of sun, there was a cool, refreshing rain.
I should have been running second. But it was comfortable back in fifth in the lee of muscular Rudi Schmidt of LaVerne, Calif. I looked up with seven miles to go and saw the others had let McCormack get away. Where were their instincts? As we turned toward Pearl City, putting the wind at our side, I tried to catch him. I couldn't. He won by a minute, kept strong by the chill.
I sat among the 46 blue duffel bags in the beach-park shelter and rested, taking note of the pattern of our days. Already it seemed fixed, natural. There was the early hard run into not quite irreparable fatigue, then some recovery (which took longer each day), and then this planning, this observation of my fellows in the hope of discerning—what? A lesson? Or simply other patterns? I ran and then reflected. It was a rhythm that embraced the primary human capacities of action and thought, the body/mind split that has always seemed so fundamental to scholar-athletes and philosophers. This cycle was embedded in the mythic punishment of Sisyphus, the endless sequence of pushing his rock up the hill, watching it topple and crash away into the abyss, and walking down in its wake, pondering his fate.
We had only 14 miles to do the next day, from Pearl Harbor through Honolulu to Waikiki, so we waited until eight to start, to let the morning rush hour die down. Didn't work. McCormack took off after four miles. I used him as a windbreak, but to keep him I had to run hard. He ran on the right, on the edge of traffic. I hate that. My mind's eye kept seeing a cement truck, its driver blinded by the sun, collecting us on the grille. Whenever a rumbling horn sounded behind us, I'd hop into the ditch where the shoulder should have been. McCormack strode on unconcerned, apparently used to such things on Brooklyn streets. Twice trucks missed him by no more than six inches. Each time he turned and gave me an offended look, as if it were their fault.
It was hot. With three miles to go, he ran into Ala Moana Park for a drink. I kept going. I figured he'd catch up. He didn't, and I won my first leg of the race. He was only a few seconds back, but because of his pace the next guys were seven minutes behind. It was a two-man race.
On the beach I tried to make sense of McCormack's strength. His absence of fear seemed an example of how intense effort can cloud awareness of outside forces, even slaughter by truck. So was he therefore closer to his limit than I? I had no real faith in my reading of him. We were different people, the Eastern, gregarious, beer-drinking fireman so solemn in his run, and the withdrawn Westerner who seemed to fill with confidence only when on the road.
He was a good man, and I couldn't imagine our competition becoming so bitter that it would interfere with my affection for him. Yet we seldom talked. I liked a little sun; he kept to the shade. We had different confidants among the field. We must, to each other, have seemed the archetypal competitors, the guys you always seem to have to face, very possibly better than you, a challenge to the ability to dig deep and the ability not to panic.
The next day was 17 miles east from Waikiki, over two tough hills, the finish at Makapuu Beach Park. The early pace was easy, McCormack liking to warm to his task, but after six miles he was in the lead and pushing. The head wind was strong, so I got on his back and let him do all the work. I felt small pangs of conscience at this occasionally, but it was a race, and he didn't seem to mind, never trying to shake me off with surges. We wouldn't have gone nearly as fast if I had led. My thighs were not sore, but pre-sore, so I told myself that if we went really fast, I'd let him go.
McCormack carries his arms rather high and they swing across his chest in a relaxed pendulum action, balancing the long sweep of his legs. Even protected behind him I was often rocked back by the 20-knot trade wind, but he shoved through it without pause. His legs are thickly muscled for a runner, so he has a low center of gravity and terrific balance. He can run within an inch of a curb or guardrail for a mile and not touch it. In all of these things I am his opposite.
For two days we had run like this. For weeks afterward the details of his shirtless back would appear in my dreams. He has a birthmark, a small area of skin that doesn't tan, on his spine six inches above his waist, exactly in the shape of Great Britain. Liverpool is there, and the mouth of the Thames, and a freckle for London. "My mother always told me that was a Christmas tree," he would say later. So smooth was his high-kicking stride that this spot never moved. It just shifted and stretched a little over his relentlessly operating back muscles.
After 10 miles he eased slightly, and I knew I could hold him for this day. The finish was downhill. I let him sprint away to a three-second win in 1:43:47, thinking that his work into the wind had earned him a moral five minutes.
I was sore that night. The race seemed more than ever a test of predictive, extrapolative powers. What would the effect be, weeks and hundreds of miles later, of decisions of pace and effort, following or leading?
Scaff had seemed to ignore the race up front. Now, learning we were 56 minutes faster over the first 89 miles than we'd been in 1979, he narrowed his eyes at us as if we were possessed, and he was not sure it was healthy. He sat on ironwood roots with me, watching the last sun. "Why do you do this race?" he asked. He seemed almost upset. "And why so hard?"
I couldn't explain. When I spoke of the land, the people, the escape, it all seemed to come to mush.
"Do you ever think, 'God, racing through back roads in Hawaii, what a comedown for an Olympic marathoner'?"
"No," I said. "It isn't a comedown. The imperatives are the same in any race. I get in a situation like this one with John, and I don't think of anything but what is necessary to have a chance to win. Then afterward I'm as amazed as you at what we're doing. Especially the destructiveness of the pace." He didn't seem much comforted.
Extrapolation kept right on going for me that evening, expanding to include foreshadowings of later years, of age. I had a career's experience of gauging levels of tiredness to summon for decisions in this race. But what would I call on to know whether it was better to kick and bite against the onset of decline or to accept it?
As an Olympian, had I ever regarded my running as an affirmation of vigor and youth, a denying of death? No. It had been a chase. The thrill was in improvement, in a discipline that was difficult. If there was defiance then, it was that I ran to set myself at a distance from the compromising mass. That aloofness was characteristic, but I was too full of life to think that I was opposing death. Death was myth.
Day 6 was 21 miles over the steepest hills we would run on Oahu. McCormack started slowly. I led by 200 yards at four miles, impressed at the good a night's sleep could do. But within a mile he came past, Krichko with him, at what seemed five-minute pace. I couldn't stay with them. The hills were making my legs worse. They beat me by six minutes through a cool rain. I finished in a sour, desolate mood. McCormack had the lead on elapsed time and he seemed to be growing stronger every day. I knew I was not. I had to forcibly remind myself that there were 12 running days left; one could not make partial-surrender statements so early, even to oneself.
Later, walking the Kualoa Park, once a region sacred to Hawaiians, a city of refuge for the hunted of the island's other districts, I found myself considering the athlete's way of keeping hopeful, of ignoring the odds. In competition you suspend disbelief. You go hard all the way when opponents seem out of range, just on the chance you'll do well.
Yet that is in contrast with dispassionate, logical behavior. Yogi Berra's "It's never over until it's over" is sheer tautology to an academic intellect. It is sacred tenet to the athlete.
Weeks later, on the radio, I would hear Goose Gossage railing profanely against sportswriters, and the worst printable thing he could think to call them was "negative." He couldn't stomach their not understanding that players had to be irrationally positive. It's the only rational way to play. He seemed right. Writers seldom understand. But neither did he acknowledge that their writing and his play are on opposite sides of that chasm referred to earlier: thought vs. action, scientific vs. partisan. It seemed in that light that he was upset at nature, furious with the only universe we know.
I loved to run with the wind. We had only 14 miles to cover on the seventh day, and I was stiff and uncoordinated, but at the four-mile water station I was done gulping first, so I led. It was a level run, with the wind pressing on our right shoulders and the sea always near. It crossed my mind that as McCormack had gone hard yesterday, it wouldn't be entirely dumb to keep some pressure on him today. He slipped back with five miles left, and my aching left thigh and calf seemed to hold steady at 5:45 pace, so I got back 45 seconds, stopping at the end of the leg beside a field of apprehensive cows.
I was groggy the next morning, heading into a 20-miler, but McCormack wasn't. I wanted it hot. It began to rain. I had to let him go after nine miles. But he only ran out to a 200-yard lead, then hung there. The sun came out. I caught him through Haleiwa, with 2½ miles to go. We were like boxers, punched out in the late rounds. I couldn't get away from him. He couldn't get away from me. We finished together in 2:01.
After we crossed the line, we sank down, hands on knees. We chose the same moment to look up at each other. His eyes were so unguarded it seemed I could see his soul. And surely he mine. "I promised myself I couldn't have any beer if I didn't at least keep up with you at the end," he said.
"God, you're getting serious," I said.
The next day was our second passage around rugged Kaena Point. I felt so heavy-legged and weary that the object became not to break an ankle. He had 100 yards when we regained the pavement. I caught him quickly. I sensed his weakness and tried to muscle away in the four miles remaining. I had a cramp in my back from waving my arms to keep my balance among the rocks, but I tried as hard as I could. He refused to crack. I won, but only by 24 seconds. He still led by 2½ minutes overall.
The first thing he said afterward was, "That 22 miles tomorrow is going to be a son of a bitch." I took that to mean he intended to make it so. It would be our last run on Oahu. I told myself I would take anything he had to give, because then I had two days to at least partially heal. I needed them. My right thigh burned at the touch, even of ice. My left hip seemed to have some sand or broken glass in it. Oddly, I had no blisters.
Knowing what was to come, and having made some peace with it, McCormack and I had lunch together. He revealed his strategy: "When Kenny's down, you got to kick him in the side."
I warmed up for 10 minutes the next morning. The day seemed to promise heat, though Scaff said it would be wet. I had decided that if, as usual, McCormack wished to start with a couple of seven-minute miles, I would start with sixes and make him choose between his normal pattern and giving me a two-minute lead.
I got a pretty good rhythm going, that sense of everything meshing, and somehow ignored the traffic on the hateful Farrington Highway. At the 3½-mile aid station, McCormack was within 50 yards. At seven he was still there. I got a good handful of ice under my hat and kept on. Cane smoke hung in the air, and the sun began to tell. I was on 5:40 pace by now and running emotionally. I was using my special, prideful past. I was an Oregon runner. I knew what it was to cast off all fears and blaze the last part of a race or workout as if it were the last you'd ever run.
I looked back at 11 miles and couldn't see him. I had near spasms in my back. But this was the chance I'd looked for, to really get some time ahead. I worked the hills and rolling road through the cane, fought the traffic into Ewa Beach and had the energy to sprint the last 200 yards.
I was weighed and had lost eight pounds, going from 151 to 143 in the two hours and 13 minutes, not an exceptional volume. But I didn't recover very quickly. I felt pretty rocky, and I kept feeling it. Dressendorfer, a medical physiologist, had me drink Coke, water and beer, and then pointed me toward a canebrake to give him a urine specimen.
I have a vivid memory of pushing into the scratchy cane. The stalks were an inch thick and purple, and the russet earth was muddy, and the urine filling the plastic cup was heart-blood red.
I walked back to Dressendorfer, a little shaken, for in my 38 years this had never happened before. I gave him the cup. "We'll follow up on this," he said eagerly, the scientist aroused. I had more beers, four to be exact, and got into a pain-liberated mood, proud, in the perverse way of distance runners, of how I'd used everything. Measured by its toll, I'd elevated this race beyond even the Olympics. Henderson noticed my right thigh was misshapen. The quadriceps just above the knee was swollen and discolored, as if a horse had kicked it. More road damage.
It seemed almost incidental that the reason I had done all this—to gain time on McCormack—was successful. He had wilted in the heat and finished 13 minutes back. But he recovered quickly.
I wandered through a cemetery beside the road and picked pink plumeria blossoms. I got another cup from Dressendorfer and tried again. This time I brought him a specimen so clear it might have been gin. "Probably just traumatized bladder," he said. "I'll bet the pounding bruised ail kinds of things."
I tried to swim, to let the little waves revive me. They rolled me about, cloudy water and bright green shreds of seaweed before my eyes, and almost drowned me. I was made to lie in the shade of a pandanus tree, on a white towel, and it seemed as if I slept, for I had the impression of having been in a lonely place for too long. But that was over. I was coming back.
There was a period when the discomfort seemed all right, justified by its origin, by my having been able to measure up to an old, hard standard. Then Scaff brought another can of beer and sat with me, impressed with my effort, admitting it was not of his world. I thought I'd get a second opinion on blood in one's urine.
"I'd say it means your system is cracking," he said. "It's a sign of impending injury."
"Great. Why hasn't this ever happened to me before?"
"You're older now, of course." He said it aggressively, with the sense of age being an equalizer, that which brings us all low. But it struck me then that this brute fact of all our lives, their being temporal, had been shown by my experience to be something not especially worrisome. If there was a lesson in these hard-racing days it was that you ran until you dropped, and then you lay under a tree with faint melodies infiltrating your consciousness and knew the Tightness of everything physical having an end.
I let my mind run on where it would. It seemed, if any of this were right, that we only feel cheated of immortality when we are young and racing headlong. But when we begin to have intimations of that eventual tiredness, we may feel better. It isn't necessarily solace that age brings to bear on this question. But it is a harbinger, a foretaste. When I peacefully slipped from consciousness under that tree it was, in Updike's phrase, "death's rehearsal."
Other people sat with me, not as with the sick, but with a regard for what I'd been through because they had been through something like it. I was absolutely without self-consciousness and grateful for others being there to hear my silly jokes and homilies. Eventually, with some food and juice, I rallied. After dinner, when most of the camp began dancing happily to loud music, I sat alone on the beach and watched the sea, the flickering lights of Honolulu. I was withdrawn by then and almost lamenting the loss of that beatific state of exhaustion, wishing I could be as natural in other times of life.
Then I realized the idea of self-consciousness is simply another aspect of the thought/action dichotomy. Reflection on oneself, if it is constant second-guessing, can be paralyzing. Thought has to make way for action. Even to reach out to a friend requires the stilling of the whirring computer. Just do it.
I knew then that it will be difficult to leave the really hard running. Unlike writing, that most self-conscious of arts, it is the only thing I do with abandon.
After two recovery days in Honolulu, and a look at the spectacular northwest coast of Maui from our plane, we resumed. Physically, I was nowhere near rested. At most, I was in remission. The first day's run of 15½ miles on Maui began with each of my legs seeming to weigh 100 pounds. The first half was uphill. I led McCormack, whose strength was more and more in the downhill. Across the southwest flank of 10,000-foot Mt. Haleakala I broke away through hillside pastures and huge stands of eucalyptus. The last miles were undulating. My sore right quadriceps worsened dramatically. I favored it, pushing only on the rises, and was lucky to win by a minute.
"The days are running out," McCormack said. Our bodies were white with the salt we had soaked up in our rest. "Margarita salt," he said. We camped on the cushiony ground of the Tedeschi Vineyards, where they make a fragrant, airy pineapple wine. They brought out ice wrapped in philodendron leaves for our legs.
McCormack had to try to take back a chunk of my 11½ minutes. "Tomorrow," said Scaff, gazing at the offshore island of Kahoolawe 3,000 feet below, "is almost all downhill, and the wind will be behind. Probably hot, too. It's desert until Kaupo. We go to the church there, 19½ miles."
The only thing he got right was the distance. The morning was wet and the wind blasted us right in the face. McCormack began almost desperately, shooting away on the early downhills. My leg was no better. I let him go, mentally sacrificing five minutes, hoping that I could hold him in sight when we hit sea level. But the wind and some unexpected uphills, and some hard work, let me catch him. All sense of keeping contact or of taking shelter from the wind was gone now. I would pass on a climb. On the downgrade, he'd overtake me and pull a discouraging distance ahead. But on the next ascent he would weaken, that strength of leg which once drove him through the wind draining away, and I would labor up and by. After 10 miles I crested a hill with a 100-yard lead of my own. McCormack would say later that I looked so strong he was on the point of coasting. But while he watched, I received an arrow between the shoulder blades.
To assist my arrhythmic descents I'd been swinging my arms and shoulders too wildly. In return I'd gotten a spasm in the center of my back. I cried out and stopped, let it ease a little, and continued picking my way down.
McCormack caught up at once. "What happened?" he asked, astonished, genuinely concerned. I told him. When he passed, it was not exactly guiltily, but he looked away.
With six to go he had a quarter mile. The terrain saved me. My back held together on the uphills, which I could run correctly, and I was very careful on the downhills. We had to curl around a foaming bay, the road turning to rock and dirt and rising, always rising. I got him with three to go; he cracked, and I won by five minutes.
"It's all over," he said when he came in. "From now on I just figure to run under control, to be able to go home in one piece."
"There is too much left to say that," I insisted. His was the kind of concession I'd felt like making when he'd beaten me by a mile on our sixth day. "We don't know what will happen to us."
We had really worked ourselves into a place of isolation. The land was mountainside right into the sea, the cliffs black and green, the ocean clouded with black sand. We bathed in a stream and camped in the churchyard. Cold wind whipped at the tent. A pair of beautiful horses walked about the camp, requesting apples. I watched the gray breakers, thinking that surely McCormack had meant what he said. By all evidence he was finished. But he should resist, I thought. Resist if only for the sake of resisting. It's never over until it's over. Rather than relief at this improvement in my chances, I felt determined to run just as hard as before, to refuse his concession, to hold to the terms of the race.
We had a windfall day off. The schedule dictated a run of 20 miles to Hana, but at three miles 100 yards of road had fallen into the sea, leaving sheer, uncrossable cliff. So we made the day an untimed hike and sent scouts into the interior to find a way around. McCormack's police whistle signaled success. We helped each other up the slope and across a ridge and down, along hastily strung ropes, through a 20-foot chimney to the road. Then in congenial groups we walked the rest of the way, past waterfalls and newborn foals and into rain forest.
We passed the green promontory where Charles Lindbergh lies, and finally, being ridiculously tired by now because this walking business was killing, we were rescued by the vans, which had gone almost all the way around the island. They took us to camp at lovely Wainapanapa Bay, and everyone was happy.
The next morning we ran 16 miles along the famously curvy road from Hana, finding the rise and fall to be far more memorable than the curves. Krichko, out of contention but feeling good, got away. A three-mile downhill into Keanae seemed calculated to batter legs. I eased, but not enough. I had twinges up and down both calves. Yet McCormack finished 10 minutes behind me. A man of his word. I now had a 27-minute lead with four days to go.
The next day would be 20.7 miles. Then we'd finish with legs of 10, 14 and 10 miles. The thing to do was dog the long one and save something for the last three. Trotting around before the start I had wrong feelings in the left hip and both calves, morning twinges.
McCormack and Krichko set a solid pace. It was wet and cool. McCormack wore his cap that said F.D.N.Y.—THE BRAVEST. As the group strung out, Rick Landau, of New York, said, "Every day it's the same. The same people ahead, the same order."
I got warm and ran in third, trying to relax and banish the nagging worry that filled me whenever McCormack was ahead. The road's pattern was constant, uphill to the crest of one of the great green headlands that jut into the Pacific on Maui's north shore, then down into a new valley, across the stream at its back, then up and out, to the next crest and the sight of a new valley, the runners ahead already climbing out of it.
Within three miles my right calf was catching, first on the uphill when it had to stretch, soon on the downhill. On a rough patch the calf went with a jolt, making me leap and call out, startling birds from the forest. I kept on, emotionally charged, understanding that my shouting when the pain speared the leg was a sign that the last reserves had come forth. This was an echo of the Olympic marathon in 1972, in which I'd gone from second place to fourth in the last five miles, losing a medal. It had been a cramp in my leg then, too.
By the second aid station I was down to hobbling nine- or 10-minute miles. McCormack would need only 10 miles to take all of my 27 minutes.
Our field began to pass. Bob Holtel, a track coach from Manhattan Beach, Calif., said, "Now I know there is injustice in the world."
He was gone before that registered. "No," I said to the cliffs, "this is the playing out of natural law."
Dick Smith, of Eugene, passed and said, "Think of next week, next month. Don't hurt yourself."
"I won't," I said. But I knew I would.
At the 10-mile aid station, Russell Wilbur, a large and tender Hawaiian who was one of the support staff, gave me a Coke. I told him it looked like I was going to have to walk. I had never done that in a race before.
"But," he said, "you are not going to quit."
I shook my head, and I walked.
It was like slowing down had been, a temporary relief. Soon the calf was in constant cramp, from the back of the knee to the Achilles tendon. It was hard to limp uphill. Most of the field had passed. The sun came out.
I timed myself between mileposts. Eighteen minutes. Three-and-a-third miles an hour. At that rate, I'd be done in about five hours. At 12 miles, Dr. Harry Hlavac, our podiatrist, who had passed earlier, was at an aid station. He'd rummaged through people's belongings, but had found only a roll of electrician's tape. I sat on a cooler and he iced my calf, dried it, wrapped it with that sticky, black friction tape and put an Ace bandage around it all. "Might help," he said a bit dubiously.
I went on. It was a little better. The tight wrap kept me from stretching to the point where it seized.
There was a lot of thought in there, to fill the sour hollow of a race now lost. I felt more alone than when running, yanked out of my familiar element. I wished for a friend left at home. I lectured myself for that. Why have two people suffer instead of one? But I still wished for her.
The basic lesson presented itself with every step. I'd judged all the elements, the distance, the resilience of my legs, the hills, the pace, the heat, the competition. And I'd made a mistake. Somewhere back there, on the prideful day before the rest interval, or in whipping McCormack over the last three miles of the run to Kaupo Church, or in not easing along with him yesterday, the day I'd had calf twinges, I'd done too much. "That's easy to accept," I said aloud. "It's the pain of the consequences that's all out of proportion."
But it wasn't easy to accept, in part because it wasn't the infirm body that lost the race. That had proved itself worthy of victory. It was the infirm mind, making the adolescent athlete's mistake, letting wishful thinking replace the conclusions gained through 23 years of observation. I had made a greedy mistake, overstepping known bounds, and the punishment was somehow inevitably, naturally steep. This had been Sisyphus' sin, too. Later I looked it up to be sure. After he died, he'd won permission from Pluto to return temporarily to earth from the underworld, to chastise his wife. But when he was on earth again, he loved it so much he refused to go back. "Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea," wrote Camus in his classic essay on the myth. Finally Mercury came and forced him into the underworld, where his rock awaited: "the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth."
And that price is the greater for one's being fully conscious of it. I seemed a literal Sisyphus for a time, temporarily done straining. I recalled, almost involuntarily, splendid races and bad ones, but nothing like this. "This really is a comedown," I thought. For a while I was cold. "A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself," Camus continued. "When the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart. This is the rock's victory. This is the rock." All we can offer in opposition is our will. We decide how to react to our punishment.
There were still one or two people behind me, our pure walkers, our injured-for-the-duration. I thought of them. They did this every day. There are different worlds. I thought of special Olympians, of wheelchair marathoners, of the choices of a man like Terry Fox. And I realized, slowly, grudgingly, that I'd been spoiled by a life of strength. There is nothing inherently horrible about walking 13 miles on a sunny day in Hawaii, even with a sore leg. It was simply the wrenching transition from running well that saddened me. Accepting that, I was not uplifted, but the worst was over.
The land changed, the jungly hills giving way to cane and pineapple. With a mile to go, Don Zaph and Slick Chapman brought me a Coke. They explained every few hundred yards that there wasn't far to go.
We mounted a hill and saw a crowd of tanned people ahead. I walked in, making a show of stopping my watch (4:55:01). McCormack was there, and we hung on to each other. He had had to walk on the uphills the last five miles. "You were the smart one," I said.
"It takes the satisfaction out of it to have it happen like this," he said. But we both knew it could happen no other way. Later, it occurred to me that he had won the race by conceding the race.
The last three days seemed to loom as a new career in walking, but the calf, diagnosed by Hlavac to have strains and tears all along the medial part of the gastrocnemius, improved considerably, and I was able to cover most of the distance in a sort of hunched trot, though I fell to fifth place overall. We rode a catamaran back to Honolulu from Lahaina, the flying fish skittering in the sun, porpoises escorting us past Diamond Head.
There was a party and an award ceremony that night at the Scaffs' home. McCormack accepted his trophy rather gravely, saying, "It was a bittersweet experience. Sure, I knew it would be run so hard that we'd cripple everyone. I made it that way, and that's the way it worked out. But on the day that we hiked to Hana, I saw that there was more to it than white lines on a black road." He swallowed hard. "I'll never do this again, this way. Next time I'll try to take a part of each of the others into me, to know what they experience."
His seemed a natural and good reaction, the effort, damage and narrowness of the race producing an affirmation of a broader life. His was the traditionally mature response, the leaving of competition for richer relationships.
Mine was not. "Would you run it hard again?" was Scaff's question.
"Probably," I said, almost embarrassed to admit it to him. But as the weeks passed and my legs came back and I set down this account, I grew less shy about it. I'll run it hard. I know more about Maui hills now. And more about me. I am still not rid of Sisyphus' sin. And I'm not too sure McCormack is, either.