But not a single one of those races compares to the 26.2 miles that my longtime buddy, Greg Jones, recently ran.
Greg and I met in Mrs. Gilmer’s fifth grade class, and we’ve been friends ever since. We were college roommates at Midwestern State University. We were each other’s best man in our weddings.
Greg is one of only a handful of people in the world who I would actually take a bullet for.
Here is his remarkable marathon story.
– – –
Greg will turn 40 in February. To celebrate this milestone birthday, he wanted to run a marathon. He looked at races across the country and chose the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.
The day before the race, I sent my longtime friend a text: “Are you ready?”
He responded with one word: “Determined.”
I applauded his adjective and wished him luck.
About 15 minutes later, my cell phone rang. It was Greg.
“I need to tell you a story,” he quickly interjected, after I had said hello.
“I don’t want you to say anything until I’m done.”
Greg explained how his beloved dog, Sammy, had gotten hurt. He described how he and his wife had accidentally over-medicated him with his pain pills. He told me what the vet said to do. He explained how this was going to impact his marathon.
“Emily (his wife) wanted us to take Sammy to Memphis with us – so we can keep an eye on him,” he continued explaining. “But I told her that I didn’t want to do that…”
At this point of the conversation, I had kept my promise and not said a word. My mind was going 100 mph, though, and I kept thinking to myself, “where is he going with this?”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Greg said, starting to get to his point. “I don’t need all the other runners. I don’t need a medal. I’m not going to Memphis. I’m going to walk out my front door tomorrow morning and run 26.2 miles.”
“Say something,” he implored.
“That’s all you’re going to say?”
I won’t bore you with ALL the back and forth, but I told him to go for it – if that’s what he wanted to do. I did voice a few concerns and throw out a couple other potential options, but I knew his mind was already made up. (Remember, I’ve known Greg since the fifth grade.)
He was going to run 26.2 miles all by himself through the streets of his St. Louis neighborhood.
Get. It. On.
– – –
I received Greg’s first text message at the 9.5 mark of his solo run. It didn’t say much, but I could tell his spirits were good.
Periodically, throughout the morning, I received more updates – including when he started to get cramps in his calves at mile 19.
I encouraged him as much as I could from 700 miles away.
Updates over the last 7.2 miles got further and further apart – even though I was getting mile-by-mile accounts. It was obvious that he was slowing down – battling to keep moving.
BUT…long story short…HE FINISHED. It took him a little longer than he anticipated, but he DID it!
As he sat in a post-run ice bath, we traded texts.
“That is a HUGE feat to do it alone,” I told him. “Great job, brother!”
I didn’t write this in a text message, but I was definitely thinking it:
“I’m not sure that I could have done it.”
I had completed three marathons, and at some point of each event, I leaned on the built-in adrenaline of Race Day.
The pomp and circumstance.
The other runners.
The finish line.
As I text Greg and told him to enjoy his post-race pizza and beer, I started to really analyze what he had accomplished.
The one word that I kept coming back to was “Guts.”
Here, I’ll use it in a sentence: “If you run 26.2 miles by yourself, you better have an overabundance of guts!”
When his legs started to cramp with 7 miles to go…I’m sure he was in his own personal hell (a.k.a. the biggest gut check of his life). He could have easily just stopped and called it a long training run.
He kept going.
I thought back to the first marathon that I ever ran. It was close to the end of the race, and my calves were pissed off. I was having severe cramping in both legs.
I was on a small section of the course where there were no other runners and/or spectators. I was alone, and I ran past a sign that read: “Quitting will hurt even more. Don’t stop.”
I vividly remember thinking to myself: “I didn’t realize that quitting was an option…BUT NOW I DO.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to pass a handful of spectators that shouted out things like:
“You can do it!”
“You’re almost there.”
As silly as it sounds….those profound statements kept me going.
Greg didn’t have that built-in luxury. He was alone. (I did see on Facebook that his wife and couple friends cheered him on randomly during the 26.2 miles, but I’m sure there were long stretches when it was just him and the sound of his feet hitting the pavement.)
I also thought back to my most recent marathon – when I stood toe to toe with some inner demons to break the 4-hour mark.
I refused to feel sorry for myself.
I stopped making excuses.
I never stopped fighting my butt off.
With no one in front of him – and no one chasing him from behind – I’m sure Greg and his demons took their relationship to a whole new level. I’m sure it was a constant cadence of “Don’t stop” and “Keep going” in his head. (He may have even been saying it out loud towards the end.)
I can’t express how proud I am of my longtime friend.
He said he was going to run 26.2 miles before he turned 40 years old, and HE DID IT!
A couple of hurdles were placed directly in front of him, but he didn’t make any excuses and HE DID IT!
He went out on the metaphorical battlefield all by himself, gave his inner demons the middle finger and HE DID IT!
One of the final texts that he sent on Saturday said: “Thanks for the inspiration.”
Greg, thank YOU for the inspiration!
Run on, brother…RUN ON!