(This is a work of fiction)

Lenny stood at the starting line with the other three hundred or so participants for the St. Clair County 10K race. It was about twenty-five minutes after seven as he looked out at the sea of people that had gathered to watch, run, or volunteer for the race.

It was a clear and pleasant morning with the temperature somewhere in the mid-sixties. The warming sun was rising slowly from the east greeting the new day that promised to contain agony, glory, and redemption for those who had come to run.

Lenny wondered about the faces that he saw. Some people had stern looks of concentration. He figured them to be the serious runners visioning the various turns and bends of the coming race. Some people joked with each other about who would be last and how they wished they had actually done at least a minimum amount of training.

He knew none of the people there. In fact, he had never been to this side of St. Louis before. He wished that he were apart of the community of runners that had gathered. It was clear that many people knew each other from previous races or perhaps from the neighborhood. He wondered if it showed on his face that this was his first race of any sort. He had only taken up running three months earlier. There was a bond among these people. A knowing that was not expressed with words. It was the kindred feeling from having endured a race.

He had been sick most of the fall and winter and had seen various doctors about his condition. It had left him weak and lethargic. It was only in February that he had recovered enough to do anything. He then decided that he would seek out some type of physical activity. It was during one of his trips to the local YMCA that he saw the notice for this race. A ten thousand kilometer run. He later learned that this was a race of approximately 6.2 miles. He promised that if his health held out he would run and finish this race. And here he was at the starting line.

Lenny wasn’t the only African American there but if he tried, he was sure that he could count them all with one hand. It didn’t matter. He wanted to run. To test himself. To measure himself against himself. Even if all the other people in the race were to suddenly disappear… he would run.

It didn’t matter that he was nearly thirty years old and had never participated in any type of physical contest. No pee-wee football or Little League Baseball. He had preferred the quiet of the library. He never really thought much about physical appearance, health, or exercise. He had always been tall and lanky. Since there were never any weight issues for him to deal with, he never really cared. It was only after his illness that he became more conscious of his body and set himself to do something of this sort.

There were almost as many well-wishers and spectators as there were actual participants. There was the occasional flash as someone snapped a photo of a loved one. To his surprise it was hard to tell a racer from a non racer. Some runners were old and some young. Some looked to be grossly out of shape with folds of extra flesh squeezed into Spandex. Some people looked lean and toned in multi-colored shirts and small runners shorts. These people had all gathered for the same purpose…to go the entire distance and accomplish their personal goals.

The race coordinator came to address the anxious runners. Lenny assumed that the large lady who looked to be in her mid forties with darkish brown hair must have been in charge since she carried the bullhorn and had been scurrying around handling details since his arrival over an hour ago.

“If I could have your attention please..” said the lady as she adjusted the volume control on the bullhorn to remove the squelch that caused some to jump with a fright. “We are so glad that you are all here! This is the largest number of runners that we have ever had in the 5 years of this race.”

There were some hoots and whistles from the crowd.

“I hope you’ve all had a chance to look at the map to see the course. If not, there will be volunteers to direct you at every turn and two water stations. Please be careful and stay on one side of the street. Are there any questions?”

A guy in the back asked if there would be any beer at the water stations which immediately caused a roar of laughter from the crowd.

Lenny thought that there would be more to it than that. But the coordinator had nothing else to say. She simply stepped on the curb leaving the runners in the street. She signaled to the two motorcycle policemen that were there to protect the runners. They revved up the engines and signaled back. After that she yelled “On your mark…get set…go!”