There was a lot of thought in there, to fill the sour hollow of a race now lost. I felt more alone than when running, yanked out of my familiar element. I wished for a friend left at home. I lectured myself for that. Why have two people suffer instead of one? But I still wished for her.
The basic lesson presented itself with every step. I'd judged all the elements, the distance, the resilience of my legs, the hills, the pace, the heat, the competition. And I'd made a mistake. Somewhere back there, on the prideful day before the rest interval, or in whipping McCormack over the last three miles of the run to Kaupo Church, or in not easing along with him yesterday, the day I'd had calf twinges, I'd done too much. "That's easy to accept," I said aloud. "It's the pain of the consequences that's all out of proportion."
But it wasn't easy to accept, in part because it wasn't the infirm body that lost the race. That had proved itself worthy of victory. It was the infirm mind, making the adolescent athlete's mistake, letting wishful thinking replace the conclusions gained through 23 years of observation. I had made a greedy mistake, overstepping known bounds, and the punishment was somehow inevitably, naturally steep. This had been Sisyphus' sin, too. Later I looked it up to be sure. After he died, he'd won permission from Pluto to return temporarily to earth from the underworld, to chastise his wife. But when he was on earth again, he loved it so much he refused to go back. "Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea," wrote Camus in his classic essay on the myth. Finally Mercury came and forced him into the underworld, where his rock awaited: "the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth."
And that price is the greater for one's being fully conscious of it. I seemed a literal Sisyphus for a time, temporarily done straining. I recalled, almost involuntarily, splendid races and bad ones, but nothing like this. "This really is a comedown," I thought. For a while I was cold. "A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself," Camus continued. "When the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart. This is the rock's victory. This is the rock." All we can offer in opposition is our will. We decide how to react to our punishment.
There were still one or two people behind me, our pure walkers, our injured-for-the-duration. I thought of them. They did this every day. There are different worlds. I thought of special Olympians, of wheelchair marathoners, of the choices of a man like Terry Fox. And I realized, slowly, grudgingly, that I'd been spoiled by a life of strength. There is nothing inherently horrible about walking 13 miles on a sunny day in Hawaii, even with a sore leg. It was simply the wrenching transition from running well that saddened me. Accepting that, I was not uplifted, but the worst was over.
The land changed, the jungly hills giving way to cane and pineapple. With a mile to go, Don Zaph and Slick Chapman brought me a Coke. They explained every few hundred yards that there wasn't far to go.
We mounted a hill and saw a crowd of tanned people ahead. I walked in, making a show of stopping my watch (4:55:01). McCormack was there, and we hung on to each other. He had had to walk on the uphills the last five miles. "You were the smart one," I said.
"It takes the satisfaction out of it to have it happen like this," he said. But we both knew it could happen no other way. Later, it occurred to me that he had won the race by conceding the race.
The last three days seemed to loom as a new career in walking, but the calf, diagnosed by Hlavac to have strains and tears all along the medial part of the gastrocnemius, improved considerably, and I was able to cover most of the distance in a sort of hunched trot, though I fell to fifth place overall. We rode a catamaran back to Honolulu from Lahaina, the flying fish skittering in the sun, porpoises escorting us past Diamond Head.
There was a party and an award ceremony that night at the Scaffs' home. McCormack accepted his trophy rather gravely, saying, "It was a bittersweet experience. Sure, I knew it would be run so hard that we'd cripple everyone. I made it that way, and that's the way it worked out. But on the day that we hiked to Hana, I saw that there was more to it than white lines on a black road." He swallowed hard. "I'll never do this again, this way. Next time I'll try to take a part of each of the others into me, to know what they experience."