It was a glorious run

October 30, 2001|By Matt Buck

THERE WAS something special about Baltimore's marathon Oct. 20 that transcended even the day's most obvious goal, which was to get my feet and legs to carry the rest of me 26.2 miles as fast as they possibly could.

Maybe it was the heart-swelling rendition of "God Bless America," belted out with more verve than I've ever heard, moments before Mayor Martin O'Malley sounded the starting horn. Or perhaps it was a high school marching band, the heavy beat of bass drum and rat-tat-tat of snare giving me cadence as I ran down Pratt Street beneath gleaming office towers. It could have been the dazed and barely awake fellow Generation X-ers spilling out of Canton coffeehouses. They put down their lattes and pocketed their cell phones to clap as I passed.

A swaying choir of gospel singers greeted me at the crest of a long hill near the corner of Highland Avenue and Edison Highway. They stood in front of a red brick single-engine firehouse and clutched each other's hands, their heads arched to the sky. Their voices carried a simple message for me: "Alle-lu-ia, Alle-lu-ia, keep run-ning, keep run-ning." And so I did.

The day was special too because there were children everywhere. Some nestled in blankets, protected from the cool morning air, perched in their parents' arms along sidewalks. Some, a little older, did what kids do when presented with the intriguing sight of 7,000 adults running past them. They ran too, with shouts of encouragement and giggles, and a little bewilderment that anyone could look so tired and slow doing what they find free and effortless.

Still more kids, adolescents mostly, joined in by handing me water, or an orange slice, or just a word of encouragement and a look that said, "I'd like to try that someday." I ran for all of them.

Was that Saturday morning so special because of the white-haired lady with sunglasses in Waltherson, dragging on a cigarette and shouting to me, and every runner in front and behind, "It's all downhill from here"? How about the CSX worker stationed below the bridge over Howard Street who, with a blackened face and broad grin, yelled that he knew a short cut? I don't know, but they made me laugh and forget about what I was struggling to do for a few blessed minutes.

Surely, in the 21st mile, when the sun got too warm and Druid Hill lived up to its name, a crew of young Army recruits got to me. They were handing out the water this time. Their broad shoulders, shining smiles and spine-chilling chants made me press on further. I felt humbled by their presence. I took pride in their confidence and strength. I said a prayer for them, and all the while the inches and yards and miles ticked by without my even noticing.

No, that fine October morning wasn't just special because of the countless steps planted, one in front of the other. For marathoners, those steps were the accomplishment of one day.

In this fall of death and darkness, planes crashing and envelopes with white dust, Baltimore's marathon was a celebration of the light and the living. With every wave and cheer, every shout and smile, throughout all the giving and receiving, Baltimore's people demonstrated what can never be taken away from them: the will to carry on - to the finish line of a day, and every tomorrow.

Matt Buck teaches social studies at the Gilman School in Baltimore City and is a free-lance writer.

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