Up ahead, early in his marathon phase, a factor named Tom Warren jogged past Waikiki Beach and down the middle of Kalakaua Avenue, serenely singing the Southern Cal fight song. If he won the contest, Warren planned to purchase a $600 wooden lion. He is amused by such artifacts. His tavern has a mock smokestack and a ship painted on the side of the building.
Warren's typical garb is shorts and T shirt. Once in France he noticed that people were whispering. He asked his Parisian girl friend why. "They think you're vulgar," she sniffed. The athlete had been walking to the Seine River in his bathing suit and goggles for a swim. As he ran through downtown Honolulu, dodging in and out of traffic, his back burnished red, no one paid him any heed.
About five miles into the marathon Warren knew that Dunbar had passed Lemaire and Emberson but was trailing by almost 30 minutes. The other threat, Haller, was another 30 minutes behind that because of his disastrous swim. Warren was reminded of a friend who for a year told the story of Warren winning a 15-mile lake race. "And he never broke stroke!" the man would say. Now as he plodded dumbly into the wind, Warren knew that the young men behind him could not catch up. "Don't break stroke," he thought over and over.
Life's tailings have significance for Tom Warren, who cherishes what most people throw away. Occasionally he will run from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. Then when someone asks how far he ran that day, he can shrug and say, "To Tijuana." People are impressed. "You need the incentive," he says.
Basically, he is deformed. When he tires, he grows silent, his right leg splays out and his head tilts toward his right shoulder. At 22 months he fell and broke his leg. It itched. Three times he broke off the cast by smashing it against a wall. Finally it was reinforced with steel. The leg healed crookedly. Most times, you cannot tell, but when he is fatigued his body leans grotesquely. Good runners blanch when he passes them, as if to say, "If I can't beat that, I quit."
Watching fatigue overtake the leader, onlookers were sure that he was finally unraveling. Johnny Faerber, a local marathoner, jumped in to run with Warren, offering counsel in the soothing tones of a man comforting a sick animal. With about 10 miles to go, Faerber whispered to a spectator, "I don't think he's going to make it." Four miles behind, Dunbar's handlers were goading their charge with this message: Warren is cracking up. Keep going. Keep going.
Faerber had no way of knowing that the splay-footed runner laboring beside him did not have a high pain threshold, but simply no threshold at all. Warren listened impassively to Faerber's advice. He had decided to win the Iron Man contest, and so he slogged on, measuring his stride against a series of dotted highway markers. The pain in his leg was a reverberating drum. All day long he had eaten only an orange and a roll. He would go the distance.
Suddenly, Gordon Haller loomed up ahead in the distance. Warren's route had doubled back on itself toward Honolulu and the finish line in Kapiolani Park. Almost nine miles behind the leader, Haller had stopped to take a drink. His handlers surrounded him. Warren speeded up significantly, his stride lengthened and his head was held upright. Upon seeing him, Haller was incredulous at the apparent absence of pain. He was getting a competitor's view of Warren's face for the first time in nine hours.
Examining the race leader's composed features, Haller felt as if he had been shot. In the next hour Dunbar came to feel the same way. In his final Iron Man contest he would be a loser.
Ahead a triumphant Tom Warren was approaching the finish line with renewed vigor. A light rain fell, and his pickup crew sprinted with him, along with a group of laughing teen-agers. He completed the marathon in 3:51. About 20 people were waiting at the finish. It had taken him 11 hours, 15 minutes and 56 seconds to become the Iron Man, a day's work for a lifetime reward. The scene was reminiscent of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner when the character Life-in-Death shouts, "The game is done! I've won. I've won!" For every time Warren wins, he is cursed to try again. That is why he cried as a young boy by the family swimming pool. With thirst unslaked, this albatross around his neck, he sails on and on.