October Bloom: “Heaven's Runners Helping Hands”

This month’s Blooming Good flash fiction story titled “Heaven’s Runners Helping Hands” was inspired by a good deed that friends in my Asheville running group shared with me. (Great timing for a running story, since I completed my first marathon 25 years ago this month.) Below is what my Asheville running friends shared:

We were running this race and came upon a downed tree in the road. Two dudes watching the event hoisted and held the tree up so we could all pass.”

I dedicate this story to three top runners who continue to inspire me: Ted Corbitt (1919-2007), Steve “Pre” Prefontaine (1951-1975), and Florence Delorez “Flo-Jo” Griffith (1959-1998).

"Heaven’s Runners Helping Hands"

people running in woodsTwenty minutes to go. MaryChris relaced her Reebok’s, repinned her bib, and rejoined the port-a-potty line. Only thirteen people ahead of her – she figured she’d easily make the 8:00AM start. MaryChris had driven herself, by herself, to Rochester, Minnesota, for her first marathon. “It’s 26.2 miles,” she repeatedly had to explain to her friends and family when they’d ask, “ How long is that race again, MaryChris?” And then, inevitably, “why so long?” As little sense as it made to them, it made all the sense to her. She had always vowed to do one. She loved legendary runners, especially the distance ones, who propelled themselves ahead, one foot in front of the other, with speed, stamina, and spirit.

Five minutes to go. MaryChris hurried toward the lineup of newbie and veteran marathoners. The honor system called for self-organizing by expected finish times, so she joined the pack huddled under the five-hour flag. She absorbed the surrounding conversations. One cluster reveled in the precision of their training. Someone behind her listed what he wished he’d done. Her six months of 400-meter track intervals, thirty-minute tempo runs, and multiple steep hill repeats had fortified her for this journey- she believed, hoped, and prayed.

Three minutes to go. “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light….” reverberated from a singer whom everyone silently hoped could hit the anthem’s uppermost notes; more than a few cringed when she missed. One minute to go. A baritone voice bellowed a list of sponsors to thank, followed by commands to runners. “Stay on the marked route, consume fluids at water stops, and watch out for the trees in the woods. Good luck, runners.”

Bang, they were off. The warning about trees reminded her that a few miles out of the city, they’d hit a wooded trail and stay on that for most of the course before the home stretch back into town. After finding her stride, MaryChris envisioned running in sync with her legends. She channeled Flo-Jo’s speed and style, thrilled with the shoutouts she’d gotten from the crowd in the first mile about her fuchsia shorts, matching tank, and patriotic red, white, and blue fingernails. She aimed for the stamina of Ted Corbitt, who often logged 200 miles a week and led the resurgence of ultramarathoning in the United States. She picked up her pace to catch “Pre,” the Oregon runner known for leading pure guts races on tracks worldwide, leaving everyone behind.

A few yards past the four-mile marker, MaryChris entered the woods filled with majestic maples and oaks that hugged the narrow, uneven trail. Suddenly, up ahead, a series of screams echoed something about trees. Runners backtracked and, in passing, warned, “downed trees, blocked trail, no way around.” She continued forward anyway.

MaryChris paused at the first downed tree, too high to climb, “no way around,” like they’d said. She looked toward the sky and from above on the right, an apparition in running garb appeared, followed by another from overhead, and a third on the left. Her trio of legends, Ted, “Pre” and Flo-Jo, floated down and surrounded her. “You’ve got this, MaryChris.”

Tethering themselves to the ground, the three raised the massive fallen tree and commanded MaryChris to pass underneath. “Go, MaryChris, you’ve logged the miles, you’ve got the guts, you’ve got the style to complete the miles.” The legends raised every tree blocking her way. “Thank you,” she said, wiping her eyes and hugging the apparitions before exiting the woods. Back on the road, she raced to the finish, taking first place in body, mind, and spirit.