Last week, I wrote about my first half marathon and being spurred on to run by irrational competition with runners I don’t know. In that post, I said one day I’d tell the story of ‘green shirt guy’. Well, that day has come.
Let’s all take a trip back in time to my first mountain marathon, which took place in Mt. Robson, and for which I was not even remotely prepared. As a result, by the time I reached the mid-point of the race, which was alongside stunning Berg Lake, I was seriously contemplating withdrawing from the race in favour of some lakeside relaxation and a very slow descent.
However, I am both stubborn and secretly terrified of placing last in any race, which seemed a very real possibility at that point as I was roughly in 59th place out of 79 runners.
That was when the magic of irrational competition struck me thanks to “green shirt guy.”
If I knew who this guy was, I would publicly credit him for helping me finish my first marathon.
“Green shirt guy” will forever remain a nameless (and mostly faceless) figure to me. In fact, I have sometimes wondered if he was merely a figment of my imagination. All I know is that he appeared to me around 22km into the race care of his bright green t-shirt, running in what appeared to be a similarly laboured style, albeit slightly faster. And the moment I saw him, the following thought crossed my mind with such clarity and purpose that I knew it must be true: “you can beat him”. It was exactly what I needed in that moment.
He helped me keep moving through the rocky basin where I feared spraining my ankle in my exhausted state. His green shirt off in the farthest limits of my vision was like a beacon guiding me home. He helped me descend the dreaded valley of a thousand falls, where I feared throwing my sacrum out, spraining an ankle (as you can see, this is a frequently occurring fear), or just flat out bailing.
Then tragedy struck, and “green shirt guy” disappeared from my line of sight. I thought for sure that was the end of his magical competitive-motivation powers. And yet, somehow it wasn’t. No matter how badly I wanted to stop or walk or give up, I held out hope that if I kept running “green shirt guy” would once again be in my sights.
My determination did not go unrewarded. Roughly 37km into the race, when my will to live was starting to fade, and I was ready to punch all the well-intended onlookers cheering me on with insipid platitudes like “you’ve got this!” and “just keep going”, I rounded a corner and there he was. It was like a bold spark of life lit inside me. Okay, that’s a bold-faced lie. It was more like a soft whisper of a second wind, barely palpable but enough to lift my pace from painful plodding to methodical trotting.
For a while, I just followed him at a distance but, as luck would have it, he began to slow while I continued to run at the same measured pace. Then, roughly four kilometers from race’s end, and with a swell of pride that has yet to reoccur in my life, I passed “green shirt guy”. I knew my ‘lead’ was fickle, and I could feel his presence behind me, threatening to pass at any moment. So I kept running. All the way to the finish line.
And so, if you ran the 2011 Mount Robson Marathon wearing a bright green t-shirt and finished with a time slower than 5hr 35min, I would like to say thank you to you. Also, please tell me your real name, because “green shirt guy” is quite possibly the least inspiring moniker for someone who played such a meaningful role in my first marathon experience.