We were at Mokuleia Beach Park. I swam above a beautiful reef, but I grew cold almost at once, the sea less hospitable than before. Jack Scaff's son, Jackson, 13, was stung by a Portuguese man-of-war and sat in camp fighting the pain: There were broad welts across his back as if he'd been whipped.
In cool mists we began the second day, sleepy, stiff, chuckling about Scaff's lecture the night before on how to deal with attacking dogs, a bane to runners everywhere. "They won't bite anything that submits to their territoriality, and the sign of submission is getting lower than their heads," he said in perfect seriousness. "So stop if they chase you, and crouch down...."
By then he was shouting through a storm of heckling. "You mean I gotta choose between being bitten in the leg and being bitten in the face?" said Henderson.
"And what about cats?" yelled McCormack.
After three miles the road became the rutted, twisting track across Kaena Point. The deeper holes were filled with water. Black lava rocks rise out of the sea, and the scene is one of compelling severity, but I didn't catch more than a glimpse or two of it during those six miles because I was desperately concentrating on the footing. Five of us alternated the lead. Then I began to make mistakes, choosing the wrong side of a hole to skirt and getting hung up in the brush, sliding into mud up to my ankles. Once I went down, a rock chewing up my palm. I staggered onto the smooth road for the last nine miles in fourth place. Kris Krichko of Eugene, Ore., a fine cross-country skier, ran powerfully ahead. I decided to just roll gently in. Save it for tomorrow, a 23-mile day. I took shelter from the wind behind Don Zaph of Boise, Idaho. Then McCormack weakened up ahead and we caught him. I didn't pick up the pace but found myself alone in second at the finish in Waianae, where I washed off about two pounds of dried mud in the ocean.
We were divided into serious competitors, who would eventually be ranked on a basis of accumulated time, and "adventurers" who timed themselves and could stop their watches while they ate, swam or shopped. Sometimes three hours went by between the hard racers and these happy explorers who arrived with word of bittersweet-nugget milk shakes. While the field came in I lay on the shell-strewn beach and thought carefully about this McCormack. I had gotten my minute back, so we were even on elapsed time. If this were to develop into a sustained duel, I had to come to some conclusions that would let me take advantage of my strengths and minimize his. Again, the heat at the end of the run had seemed to reach him. His best marathon was 20 minutes slower than mine, but that was offset by his durability. In 1979 he had won most of the last legs, finishing freshest of all. Though I could probably run faster on a given leg, I would pay for such speed with successive days of vulnerability to injury. The strategy suggested by all this was to stay close, if possible, and wait, and perhaps on a hot day to take back with one strong bite what he had nibbled away.
The dawn of the third day was clear and still and dry. "I guarantee you heat," said Scaff. We were off by 6:30, down the busy Farrington Highway. After an hour, the lead pack of five marched through 10 miles of cane fields, huge trucks roaring past our elbows. A wind came up against us and we all drafted along behind McCormack. Instead of sun, there was a cool, refreshing rain.
I should have been running second. But it was comfortable back in fifth in the lee of muscular Rudi Schmidt of LaVerne, Calif. I looked up with seven miles to go and saw the others had let McCormack get away. Where were their instincts? As we turned toward Pearl City, putting the wind at our side, I tried to catch him. I couldn't. He won by a minute, kept strong by the chill.
I sat among the 46 blue duffel bags in the beach-park shelter and rested, taking note of the pattern of our days. Already it seemed fixed, natural. There was the early hard run into not quite irreparable fatigue, then some recovery (which took longer each day), and then this planning, this observation of my fellows in the hope of discerning—what? A lesson? Or simply other patterns? I ran and then reflected. It was a rhythm that embraced the primary human capacities of action and thought, the body/mind split that has always seemed so fundamental to scholar-athletes and philosophers. This cycle was embedded in the mythic punishment of Sisyphus, the endless sequence of pushing his rock up the hill, watching it topple and crash away into the abyss, and walking down in its wake, pondering his fate.
We had only 14 miles to do the next day, from Pearl Harbor through Honolulu to Waikiki, so we waited until eight to start, to let the morning rush hour die down. Didn't work. McCormack took off after four miles. I used him as a windbreak, but to keep him I had to run hard. He ran on the right, on the edge of traffic. I hate that. My mind's eye kept seeing a cement truck, its driver blinded by the sun, collecting us on the grille. Whenever a rumbling horn sounded behind us, I'd hop into the ditch where the shoulder should have been. McCormack strode on unconcerned, apparently used to such things on Brooklyn streets. Twice trucks missed him by no more than six inches. Each time he turned and gave me an offended look, as if it were their fault.