Mastodon Weekend 2012: Evolved

I didn’t think I needed medical attention when the first guy leaned over me and asked, “Are you okay?” I told him I was and that I just needed to catch my breath. He believed me long enough to go find a medic who believed me less but was kind enough to let me take my time. I’d apparently (and this is all a little hazy) made it about ten feet from the finish line before sitting down on the ground cross-legged and dropping my head between my knees where I sat long enough to cause some amount of concern for my well-being. Some time later, I stood, collected my medal, and walked through the concourse of Fluor Field. I swayed and stumbled from the first base side to third base where I heard my brother (who finished his first half about seven minutes ahead of me) scream–full-on joy–“Bradley!” I sat down again. On the ground. Again sort of hazy. Took off my shoes, saw the destruction, let my brother–a medical professional–pour water over my head. Ate some pineapple. It wasn’t supposed to go like that.

I spent a lot of time standing on chairs last weekend. Several dozen people from 17 states (and Canada) traveled here to take part in the third Mastodon Weekend. Addressing them all–at a poker tournament, at a cookout, and at the race finish line party–required pulling up a soapbox. Each time, I looked out at friends’ faces and saw nothing but happiness. These people had all come together for a weekend that promised nothing but companionship and silliness. It delivered on both.

There was a time in my life when I would’ve spent an entire week and 10,000 words recounting what happened here over the weekend, but, honestly I couldn’t do it justice. Even I can’t explain the feeling of watching one of my best friends in the final .2 miles of his first marathon, his son by his side and three dozen people screaming for them. I can’t describe what it felt like to worry for my friend and running mentor when I didn’t see him come toward the finish at exactly the time I expected. I can’t even fully describe what it was like to see 30 people destroy pound upon pound of BBQ when I could barely stomach half a plate. If you want to know it, you’ll just have to come visit sometime.

What I can describe is the pure love and happiness I felt over the course of the weekend. I got to see my brother, sister-in-law, and cousin play with my kids. I got to see a young woman I’ve known since she was two run a half marathon (and place in her age group) on her 14th birthday. I got to see the love of my life shake off a bad race experience from last spring and run the half marathon she wanted to run. I got to see good friends improving their lives and their spirits in a way I never would’ve expected.

As I said above, when I crossed the finish line, I thought, “It wasn’t supposed to go like that.”

But that was selfish, because what I was thinking was, “It wasn’t supposed to go like that for me.”

Yes, something–and I’m still not entirely sure what–had gone wrong. Yes, I’d PR’d by nearly ten minutes. Yes, I’d finished on the run. But the pictures of the finish told the story. My legs looked to be running forward while it appeared my body was falling backward. Despite what I thought was perfect training, my body didn’t cooperate that morning. I was supposed to run a 1:55:00 and I ran a 2:00:28. And it made me a little sad. It took me several days to admit it, but I was unhappy with how the race ended for me. Fortunately, every other thing that happened in the 72 hours of Mastodon Weekend made me so happy that it made the pain, the jacked up feet, and the disappointment worth it.

Along the way, I got to watch my brother and friends achieve beyond what anyone would have ever expected for us five years ago. I felt pure friendship as Grange gave me a look that calmed me down in the middle of the sixth mile (and then somehow went on to cover the remainder of the race nine minutes faster than me). I felt renewed encouragement when Andrew hit me on the back as he passed me in mile 8. And I felt–yes, I’ll say it–pride when I passed him again two miles later. Once we crossed the finish line, we saw Chilly–who had just started getting heathy this year and ran for the first time on May 1–cross the finish line about half an hour before we expected him to. The cheers were deafening. Finally, though I didn’t know it until much later, I felt so happy when I saw a photo of my finish and saw my friend Drizz just a few steps back finishing right behind me. He was probably there all along, and I didn’t know it until much later.

And that was really the point of it all. This past weekend, I got to surround myself with people who would hold me up when I needed it. I got to be around people with whom I shared a friendship and love that most people aren’t lucky enough to have. Honestly, though it was never an option, I could’ve quit that race and still been the luckiest guy on the course.

We’ve all changed a lot over the years. We’ve celebrated and suffered together. It’s what makes friends. Really, when it comes down to it, it’s not the running and the races that are the thing for me. It’s the feeling of knowing there are friends there with me.

This afternoon I told my wife, “I’m thinking about doing something stupid.”

Her face clouded. “Old Brad stupid or New Brad stupid?”

It doesn’t really matter what the answer was. The fact that there is a distinction between the two pretty much sums up what this weekend meant to me. We changed, and, finally, it’s for the better.

Thanks to all who came. Thanks to the people who were generous beyond all reason (I have two really good bottles of Templeton Rye in my cabinet if any of you need a way to pass the winter months). Thanks for the friendship. It took me several days to realize that even though I didn’t hit my goal time in the race, there wasn’t a luckier guy to cross the finish line. We all get very busy. We don’t see each other or talk as much as we should. But I think back to this picture of Drizz coming in behind me, and I realize, when it comes down to it, these people are always there, ready to catch me, ready to give me pineapple or run for a banana, ready to hold me up. Always there in the background, and always friends.

1,700 people in the race, and Drizz and I finish this close together? (Thanks, Mary Ellen, for the photo)

For a full gallery of Mastodon Weekend 2012, see this page

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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4 Responses

  1. gracie says:

    Outside looking in, the difference between 1:55:00 and 2:00:28 over the course of 13.1 miles doesn’t seem like much. But after going, literally, from the couch to a disappointingly slow 5K over the last few months, I actually get it. Though I wasn’t there, based on all written accounts I’m pretty sure that your five minutes was spent generously hosting dozens of people over the course of a weekend. You gave it to everyone else, Otis. You just didn’t have it to spend at the end of that race. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. You and Michelle are flat out super heroes. Cheers to you both.

  2. Drizztdj says:

    I got a tap on my butt at mile 2 and it was your brother who I would try to stick with until mile four and certain death if I attempted to do it further. Then Grange came up and I hung with him for a couple of miles and watched his similar long stride to mine drift along the Swamp Rabbit Trail up towards those god-awful hills.

    According to the Garmin, I did the baseball field in a 6:23/mile pace. After dying on those hills (averaging near 10:00/mile) I sprinted to leave nothing left, and despite turning the last corner in left field to see a number higher than two hours, I loved that a) I finished b) throwing the goat at a special group that has made me a better person by association c) I didn’t die.

    Feel proud of what you accomplished. Feel proud of the people you, John, and Dan brought together and inspired to do this. And most of all, feel proud of you. Bloody toe in all. Seriously, that was nasty man, hope you’re ok.

    Until next time we meet.

  3. Dan England says:

    This weekend meant a lot to me. You summed up why.

  4. Dr. Chako says:

    New Brad – gonna run Boston with me?