It was hot. With three miles to go, he ran into Ala Moana Park for a drink. I kept going. I figured he'd catch up. He didn't, and I won my first leg of the race. He was only a few seconds back, but because of his pace the next guys were seven minutes behind. It was a two-man race.
On the beach I tried to make sense of McCormack's strength. His absence of fear seemed an example of how intense effort can cloud awareness of outside forces, even slaughter by truck. So was he therefore closer to his limit than I? I had no real faith in my reading of him. We were different people, the Eastern, gregarious, beer-drinking fireman so solemn in his run, and the withdrawn Westerner who seemed to fill with confidence only when on the road.
He was a good man, and I couldn't imagine our competition becoming so bitter that it would interfere with my affection for him. Yet we seldom talked. I liked a little sun; he kept to the shade. We had different confidants among the field. We must, to each other, have seemed the archetypal competitors, the guys you always seem to have to face, very possibly better than you, a challenge to the ability to dig deep and the ability not to panic.
The next day was 17 miles east from Waikiki, over two tough hills, the finish at Makapuu Beach Park. The early pace was easy, McCormack liking to warm to his task, but after six miles he was in the lead and pushing. The head wind was strong, so I got on his back and let him do all the work. I felt small pangs of conscience at this occasionally, but it was a race, and he didn't seem to mind, never trying to shake me off with surges. We wouldn't have gone nearly as fast if I had led. My thighs were not sore, but pre-sore, so I told myself that if we went really fast, I'd let him go.
McCormack carries his arms rather high and they swing across his chest in a relaxed pendulum action, balancing the long sweep of his legs. Even protected behind him I was often rocked back by the 20-knot trade wind, but he shoved through it without pause. His legs are thickly muscled for a runner, so he has a low center of gravity and terrific balance. He can run within an inch of a curb or guardrail for a mile and not touch it. In all of these things I am his opposite.
For two days we had run like this. For weeks afterward the details of his shirtless back would appear in my dreams. He has a birthmark, a small area of skin that doesn't tan, on his spine six inches above his waist, exactly in the shape of Great Britain. Liverpool is there, and the mouth of the Thames, and a freckle for London. "My mother always told me that was a Christmas tree," he would say later. So smooth was his high-kicking stride that this spot never moved. It just shifted and stretched a little over his relentlessly operating back muscles.
After 10 miles he eased slightly, and I knew I could hold him for this day. The finish was downhill. I let him sprint away to a three-second win in 1:43:47, thinking that his work into the wind had earned him a moral five minutes.
I was sore that night. The race seemed more than ever a test of predictive, extrapolative powers. What would the effect be, weeks and hundreds of miles later, of decisions of pace and effort, following or leading?
Scaff had seemed to ignore the race up front. Now, learning we were 56 minutes faster over the first 89 miles than we'd been in 1979, he narrowed his eyes at us as if we were possessed, and he was not sure it was healthy. He sat on ironwood roots with me, watching the last sun. "Why do you do this race?" he asked. He seemed almost upset. "And why so hard?"
I couldn't explain. When I spoke of the land, the people, the escape, it all seemed to come to mush.