Gray Smith submitted his article ”Marathon Memorial” about his experience in the Blue Ridge Marathon this year:
I did not run the Blue Ridge Marathon last year. After Lazarus Saturday liturgy at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, I attended a funeral mass for Daniel Maloney at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Daniel ran track at Cave Spring High School with my sons.
I was on call chaplain at Carilion Clinic the night Daniel entered the hospital after a car accident. I prayed for him and with his family at his bedside in ICU for a week. After his funeral, an angry storm unleashed strenuous winds, flash flooding forcing runners off the marathon course.
Training for the National College Blue Ridge Marathon this year did not go well. My weight was up from when I ran the premier marathon two years ago, allergy season was early, and my mileage low. During a run near Lazarus Saturday, I decided to run the marathon in Daniel’s memory.
I arrived at the starting line with little sleep, asthma choking me, and my satellite watch refusing to download.
John Carlin introduced Bill Rogers to the crowd. On my way to the starting line, I stepped toward Mr. Rogers, shook his hand, told him how he was my hero when I was a teenage runner for Cave Spring, and thanked him for coming. He said, “You’re doing it today!” Excited by meeting Bill Rogers, I forgot to begin my prayers.
Sheepishly, I wrested my prayer rope from my wrist and started praying for Daniel.
I remained ecstatic until I felt blisters developing during the Roanoke Mountain downhill. Despite this development, I still felt good until a cramp ripped through my left hamstring as I climbed into the port-a-potty around mile fourteen. I kept my composure despite threatening cramps, blossoming blisters and searing sunshine through mile seventeen. Passing Fleet Feet’s water station, Blaine warned me, “Peakwood is next.”
I crawled up Avenham turning onto Peakwood. I noticed runners in front of me walking. Soon I was walking. I never walk! Peakwood appeared eternal! Despite drinks, food and encouragement from Peakwood residents, around mile nineteen, I knew I could not finish.
An ambulance followed me. I ruminated about how to quit without an Emergency Room trip.
How could I not finish given my promise to run in memory of Daniel?
I prayed for strength. “Jesus loves you” written in black marker on the left calf of the runner in front of me with a reference to Matthew 11:30 on his right calf. I strained unsuccessfully to recall the verse. I spotted a vista view of the valley and wept at the beauty of creation and felicity of Creator. Cramps continued crawling up and down my legs calling me to quit.
My brain agreed to stop, but my legs kept going.
Suddenly, a red van appeared, and my wife handed me a Powerade bottle. Strength to continue crawling the unending hillside infused me. The next water station refreshed me with goo, fruit and drinks. As I made my way down the hill, I prayed for strength to finish.
Carilion workers I know reassured me at the twenty-second mile table.
As I ran beneath 581, the sky darkened overhead. I heard thunder twice. I imagined myself assuring race officials I would not stop unless lightning killed me. My blistered feet and cramping legs made a lightning strike sound promising! It turns out the “thunder” claps were trucks passing over the bridge.
With two miles left, rain poured. I remembered Daniel’s funeral. A race patrol cyclist encouraged me during the last miles. At the final turn, I thanked him, telling him about Daniel, why finishing was dear to me, and how much his help along with that of my wife and everyone else along the way meant to me. This young man said, “Well, he’s with you today!” I could not restrain the tears.
I dreaded stopping knowing cramps would engulf both legs immediately. Two race officials and two of my sons accompanied me for the final yards. I was the last runner, but my victory was complete! I crossed myself, said another prayer in memory of Daniel and hobbled toward my wife.
No cramps ever came.