Olympic Diary

The Olympic men’s marathon and my first half-marathon are this Sunday, and I can’t wait. Last Sunday morning was the Olympic women’s marathon. After the race, aglow, I ran 22 miles in dry Hoboken heat, the first hour through the projects and Jersey City Heights, the city without water fountains. My fingertips and earlobes grained with salt, a fractal line of white on black triangled down from my crotch; my muscles locked and the eccentric action on every decline wrenched my left knee; rehydration beyond possibility­only 1:34 to go. My breath took on the four-beat rhythm of the reptile brain. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

I spent the day shivering, drinking water, and waiting for piss, hoping that when it came it would be clear. I spent it sprawling in an ice bath; massaging my calves, kick-shaved by stumbling strides; vaselining my nipples and my inner thighs and my red-stippled inner left knee; working up a taxonomy of my toe blisters: tip bubbles, small-medium-large; top bubbles, discolored and cracking; and ridges, squaring off my feet, connecting bubble to bubble, dot-dash-dot, an abbreviated SOS. I spent it frying protein and boiling carbs, inhaling them while watching my watch, some sports science site said so. I spent Sunday slumped on the couch, watching the Olympics with my water and eggs and rice and sore hip, sorer knee, sorest Achilles, dropping off abruptly, waking to sprinters bumping chests, divers and gymnasts sobbing, volleyball, beach volleyball, “She’s off the trampoline!” I had taped the women’s marathon, of course, to watch again later, but now I rewound further back, to the men’s 10,000 meters, which NBC on Friday the 20th had relegated to the early afternoon.

Gripping, this 10,000, if only for its fierce nationalism: Ethiopia fending off Kenya, three on three, Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, and Sileshi Sihine rotating the lead, and throwing in surges whenever a Kenyan approaches. Bekele’s the world record holder, and just 22; Gebrselassie’s the former record holder, and twice the Olympic champion at the distance—no one’s ever won it, or any Olympic running event, thrice. But Geb is 31, has a bad Achilles, hurt trying to recover the sprint speed lost to age, hasn’t trained in two weeks; the only reason he’s racing 10,000, not the marathon, is because his entire country demanded it. (This is a man, after all, about whom Disney had made a movie.) Four miles in, the three are superbly efficient, elbow angles all that distinguish them; maybe Geb should go now, and exploit his presumed strength before Bekele can utilize his speed, but they’re a team, and, anyway, maybe Geb really is hurting.

Five miles approach, and Bekele stays beautifully smooth, Sihine’s noiseless in second, while Geb’s arms go from a pump to a circle, then a gentle flail. Upper-body strength counts for little in distance running, except while fatigued; through the mysteries of biomechanics, the arms drive the legs, the rhythms equal if opposite, and strong arms can stiffen jellied legs; but side-to-side action above means slowed turnover below, wasted motion all through, carrying down to the torso, to the hips and legs, and you’re losing a fraction every step. Geb falls back; Bekele and Sihine slow to pull him in, and an Eritrean, Zersenay Tadesse, comes too. But soon enough it’s time to go, and the two cut the string they’ve been yanking for miles: Bekele runs an astonishing 53-second last lap (ten seconds slower than the world record for 400, and he’s just run six miles) to an Olympic—record 27:05.10; Sihine gets second, Geb fifth, Tadesse the bronze. The first Kenyan is sixth, and the rest refuse interviews. Ethiopia, Geb in the middle, wraps itself in the flag and takes its lap. Those African distance runners, says Jim Lampley, “May their tradition continue to bring glory to their troubled continent.”

And our troubled country, our inglorious tradition? An American, Dan Browne, led the 10,000 at five minutes, but dropped to twelfth by race’s end, and so it’s long been. Running is the finest sport because the purest, its narratives arising from lone bodies in motion, space in time, with distance running the novel to sprinting’s flash fiction. America engineers the world’s greatest sprinters, and seemingly half the world’s joggers; we’re without attention span, except when we’re at hard labor. And for prime-time there is the 100-meter dash: all-American ego, muscle, shoe technology and compression suits, the wonder of super-slo-mo, now from 18 angles!; and hundredths of a second slashed like sale prices—9.84, marked down to 9.79, 9.78. “The race to crown the world’s fastest man!”

Khalid Khannouchi and some scattered others aside, the fastest runners in the world are now in Athens. But no world record will be set at any distance above 800 meters, if even that. There’s a qualitative difference, psychological as much as physiological, between races run in lanes and those not. Up through 400 meters­one lap, nearly a quarter mile­each of eight runners has his lane; every footfall, every efficiency calculated. But starting with the 800, in which the eight break lanes midway, and increasingly with the 1500 and up, in which large fields waterfall two or three deep along a curved line and break to lane one on the first turn, racing differs from time trialing. There’s maybe a six percent energy savings to drafting, tucking in behind and letting another break the air, though there are attendant risks: especially if long legged, you can’t as easily set your stride, and in the pack, sometimes, things get ugly.

You could, of course, make a run for it, against air resistance and empty track, but your hard move better take or you’re just a rabbit, and here come the headlights. Distance records are run at glorified time trials, against subpar fields. But distance championships are not the time to test natural limits; what matters only are the limitations of the competition. Championship runners thus perform a constant tactical calculus. Relative to those in the race, you may be a sprinter, or a miler; convince the pack to carry you through comfortably to your race within the race, and you have a shot.

Ethiopians, it was said during the men’s 10K, are known for their fast 5K and faster finish, and for the Kenyans to win they’d need it hard from the start. That Chinese woman, it was said during Monday’s women’s 5K, the woman with the nearly straight arms flopping by her sides, Sun Yingjie, can only run from the front, and the field knew that if it dawdled for a couple laps she’d take the bait: the lead, and the stress of setting the pace, trading off only with teammate Xing Huina.

Cut to five minutes later, after the ad break and a furtive edit (even at 1 a.m., can’t show 14 minutes 45 seconds of running!): China’s nowhere to be seen, only Kenya and Ethiopia. Isabella Ochichi (K.) and Meseret Defar (E.) surge at a mile out in order to break Tirunesh Dibaba (E.) before she can outsprint them; Dibaba won last year’s world champs with her blazing final 200. Self-preservation has vanquished petty nationalism. (Or not: The surge may be aimed at world record holder Elvan Abeylegesse, an Ethiopian expatriate now running for Turkey, who’s also up near the leaders; for leaving them, Ethiopia hates her.) Dibaba manages third, though Defar has a kick of her own, and leaves behind Dibaba as if she were standing still. The Kenyan collapses at the finish line and while on her knees retches her stomach up, nothing but acid. Take that, you. (Abeylegesse was 12th. “We were really motivated to beat the Turkish girl,” Defar said afterward.) Defar is 20, Dibaba 18, Ochichi 23, Abeylegesse 21. No Americans of any age made the final.

There are three Americans in the women’s marathon, though one, Colleen De Reuck, long ran for South Africa. De Reuck is 40, an old lioness; Jen Rhines is a tyro at 29; Deena Kastor, 31, might now be the best female distance runner in American history. She took Joan Benoit’s US marathon record, has the country’s 10,000 record, among others, and even for a time had the world record in the road 5K. I’ve been reading about her training: Hundred-and-forty-mile weeks on two runs a day. Two hours in the gym middays. Married her physical therapist; hour and a half massages three times a week. Sleeps 14 hours a day. In her approximately two free daily minutes, writes short stories. Very short. Anticipating Athens’s heat and hills­100 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity at the start, with a climb from miles 10 to 20 that goes up five floors’ worth every mile, a flight a minute, before dropping back down in the last six­she’s been running mountains all summer, in a sweat suit. She’s been training hard for this. She’s chirping about it to the TV in the royal We. I suspect the “We”s refer to her loyal training partners, all men, or to her two teammates. But if it’s pretension, I forgive her. After the race she will speak of Nike. So be it. I know she’s paying her bills. She has bills. She’s no Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder and the most famous athlete in England after Becks and Rooney. She’s no Catherine “the Great” Ndereba of Kenya, whose wedding to another Olympian was attended by 20,000, her wedding train 600 feet long, cut into pieces, sold on behalf of AIDS awareness. She’s an anonymous American who likes to suffer and nap, so let her queen it up early on a Sunday.

And there’s the gun.

Unlike track races, marathons are big business. Is there a city or cow town without one? They’re the counterpoint to the daily jog—the binge after the work week. But easy does it. One popular authority, Jeff Galloway, who ran the 10,000 in the 1972 Olympics, now makes his living telling people how not to work as hard as he did. His mantra: Walk, don’t run. Take walk breaks every mile in your marathon; you’ll go faster without all that pain and bother. Historic and scenic anomalies like the craggy Boston course aside, joggers flock to flat, fast marathons. Even New York, facing no shortage of entrants, three years ago planed off a Central Park hill. Who’d want a good walk break ruined?

A version of this logic holds for the elite; on the track they shirk strong fields, and on the road they avoid hills and heat: marathons approach track races approach time trials. Paula Radcliffe set her world records on the pancake courses of London and Chicago; Deena Kastor set her American mark at that same 2003 London race. Radcliffe was a track almost-ran. She would start at the front, fast and even, and then Africans would haul her in, in a burst, on the last laps. Fifth in the 1996 Olympic 5,000, fourth in 2000’s Olympic 10,000 and fourth again at the 2001 Worlds, it was only in 2002 that she would discover the marathon’s relativistic magic. Her debut was the second-fastest marathon in history; her second the world record by 89 seconds; her third better by 113 more: 2:15:25. Radcliffe went from a runner without a stretch run to a finisher to be feared, though she still front-ran and was never tested, except by herself.

Nor did she tempt the demons that the distance hid. London and Chicago allowed Radcliffe to inflict pain on her own terms, not on the course’s. But in Athens it is so hot and so hilly, its elevations multiples of even Boston’s, its weather Mediterranean, the balm that burns. Today’s marathon is a course no one would come near if it weren’t where it is when it is; yet where it is when it is is the problem precisely. And they’re off.

One thing I didn’t know about Radcliffe: She’s some kinda car wreck. Marathoners even more than five-milers are tiny efficiencies, vertical hyphens. Radcliffe’s an upright em-dash, standing still; running, she’s an ampersand, then an asterisk, an octothorpe, a question mark: the &*#? describes her best, a funny-page profanity. She’s ugly! And I love her. She’s up on her toes like the scrawniest prizefighter; her elbows chicken-wing and her left arm especially kicks back; when it does, its fist opens to a half slap. From the gun she looks punch-drunk, her neck rubber and her head bobbing loose like a newborn’s. Still, her torso hardly swivels and her feet plant straight. Two of the runners in the 15-odd pack, Japan’s Mizuki Noguchi and Kenya’s Margaret Okayo, are 4’11” in sneakers, under 90 pounds; 5’3″, 100 is the race average; Kastor’s 5’4″, 101. Radcliffe is 5’8″, 112—tall enough to look skinny. The stadium with the finish line bears more Union Jacks than Hellenes. The favorite daughter, faster than any man in Britain, has the lead from step one.

The American Kastor is almost immediately out of the pack, and settles in around 28th; the other Americans are farther back. The camera makes its requisite check-in every ten minutes, and there she is, now 0:35 out, now 1:20, 1:40, under a white baseball cap, calm if not cool. As they climb the ten miles of hills, the pack drops one after another, until it’s Radcliffe, Noguchi, Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia, and Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, whose world record Radcliffe bulled through. All the way up, her long legs straining horribly against gravity, Radcliffe’s been making small surges, which Noguchi, also up front, has been covering nervously—she’ll not be the one to let the giant free. Or is it Noguchi who’s been doing the surging?

Alemu, calmer, has tucked into the pack’s middle even as it crumbles around her; Ndereba, calmer still, is on her own clock, letting the surges play themselves out while she keeps to the shade and the tangents. No one looks mildly like Radcliffe, but the quieter, smaller runners have their own quirks: Japan’s Noguchi a stricken face and a right hand that flaps open as her right arm shoots wide, but her legs turn over like a miler’s; Ethiopia’s Asemu, looking like she’s out for a jog, a splaying right foot. But Ndereba of Kenya, a bouffanted, very black woman dressed but for white shoes all in black on this scorching day, is perfection, her elbows far back, her head still but face flopping. My high school track coach liked to yell all-purpose apothegms at us during races: “Use your arms!” as if we weren’t. “Work here!” as if we could. “Relax your face!” as if. . . as if. . . I lost a step every time he screamed that. I could hear in his voice the wildness of his hair and eyes.

Radcliffe is having a seizure. While running 5:20 miles uphill. They’re coming to the steepest rise in the race, at mile 19, and she’s lost the lead to Noguchi. “A human hydroplane with a V-8 engine,” says Marty Liquori. I have no idea what that means. Radcliffe fights back Alemu for second, and both Africans slip into the draft, letting Radcliffe spend more of herself to come back at the leader. Kastor’s at 1:50 out. But now she’s in eighth. The downhill’s here, and the last six miles. Downhill Radcliffe’s leg length and track speed should be a help, but her head is going to break off and outroll them all.

Noguchi’s wavering up top but not below; her legs drive forward; she has a good luck charm on her shorts. Ndereba, perfect, has now taken second. Radcliffe runs on one side of the road, Alemu all the way on the other; she’s not going to help a dying woman. Kastor’s 2:00 out, in sixth. Radcliffe gains a few meters. Alemu’s husband, a Sydney Olympian, runs down the sidewalk in an Ethiopian tracksuit, then gets onto the road and runs alongside his wife. He’s gone by the time they’re back from the ad, but so’s Alemu, comfortably in third. What happened? No one says. The camera shows only Radcliffe, alone on the highway, which runs past patches of spectators and a bush every 30 meters. She stops at exactly the 36K sign, starts up again, stops, puts her hands on her head, crying. She tries to hide from the cameras behind some scrub, sits down on the roadside. The cohost: “That says it all. A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s nothing more to say.” The stadium is quiet. Liquori, a great miler in his day, puts it better. “The arm action was accentuated,” he says.

I’m sure Ndereba has Noguchi. She broke her in the last 10K of the 2003 World Champs. She’s perfect. She’s 24 seconds back. She’s 12 back with a mile and a quarter. She is perfect and beautiful. When I show the tape to my mom, she starts hitting the screen, shoving her on. “Go, baby, go!” But Noguchi’s legs keep churning. She’s in the stadium, waving to the crowd, pumping her fists to the sky. Does she know she has a last lap? She does, and Ndereba’s entered the stadium, 50 meters behind. The 12 seconds hold, 2:26:20, 2:26:32.

Kastor’s in fourth, as perfect as Ndereba under her white baseball cap. She has 10 minutes to pick up 40 seconds on Alemu for the bronze. She has a mile to pick up 18. At 2:23:23, she’s hard by Alemu, who still looks out for a Sunday jog, only now at something like jogging pace. In the next four minutes, Alemu will lose 55 seconds more. Kastor comes bawling down the straightaway to a 2:27:20. She thought she was fourth (Noguchi, Ndereba, Radcliffe) until she heard the announcer. She raises her arms. I can read her white baseball cap: it says USA. In the last four minutes, she’s taken 55 more seconds: Alemu jogs in at 2:28:15. As she’s interviewing for the camera, someone’s at her feet, puking beneath the frame.

This Olympic week, this training week, which began with two days of two runs each—splitting recovery, it’s said, prevents stress—I approached but averted breakdown. I was to run 15 miles on Wednesday, but midway, on four hours sleep, I cut it to 9; a weight was on my lungs and my heart was skipping beats. I’d been up till 2 that morning, watching the men’s 1,500 and the 3,000-meter steeplechase. I was up as late that night, and took the next day off; I had to conserve myself for Sunday’s race, my first since high school. I did a medium 13 on Friday, coming home to a tape of the women’s 10K, and Saturday I did 7 miles at 75 percent heart rate, then six 100-meter stride outs. My legs felt fresh: my stress had made me taper. That night, the women’s 1500 and the men’s 5,000. A good week of running, from which I learned one thing for sure: Hisham el-Guerrouj is on his cell phone right now to the King of Morocco, in tears.Guerrouj has been the world’s best miler for the past decade, but in Atlanta in 1996 he tripped and finished last; two hours before 2000’s race, the King called him: the nation expects you to win. And Guerrouj cried. He then went out and got outkicked, by a foot or two. On Wednesday, he cried again: he’d just run the fastest closing 800 meters ever in a 1,500, 1:46.70. In the last 150, Kenya’s Bernard Lagat came up on him, striding faster if shorter, and passed him on the stretch. But Guerrouj, impossibly, his cadence now matching Lagat’s and his stride an inch longer, passed him back, to win by 12 one-hundredths. Then, the waterworks, and the call with the King on the victory lap. Saturday, he returned for the 5,000, against Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the 10,000-meter champion in this Olympics, and the 5,000 world record holder. Inexplicably, Bekele and his teammates set a slow pace, handing the endgame to Guerrouj and his miler’s speed. He’s boxed in, but goes wide to break out, wins by two tenths. He kisses his knee. No tears or cell phones in evidence, but just wait. I got to bed late and the next morning was up early, to Central Park, to the half-marathon.

The race was to begin at 7 a.m. I woke at 4:55, drank a quart of water, and left the house at 5:10. The commuter rail platform in Hoboken had five runners already in shorts, tanks, numbers; otherwise the train was filled with sleeping Indians or Pakistanis, en route presumably to Manhattan’s coffee carts and all-nite delis, those snoring edges of seamless capitalism. I transferred to the subway, exited at 59th and Fifth, jogged half a mile in jeans through the park, to 70th and East Drive. My bag banged on my back; I tripped on my frayed cuffs. On a bench, I pantsed, shod, pinned, vaselined. At the start, it was about 75 degrees heat­and 75 percent humid. As my high school cross-country coach liked to say: deceptively hot. The six-minute-mile slot filled fast, with runners who’d meet that mark and those who just liked the lead. It was announced that Canada’s fastest woman was running: Nicole Stevenson, her 2:34:43 marathon 6.5 minutes short of the Olympic standard. A man dressed as the Flash was at the start, but I passed him after a mile.

Let it never be said that athletes know nothing: they know bodies as well as yogis and surgeons, Beckett and Cronenberg, but their knowledge is of a different sort. Unsymbolic, systematic only insofar as sports science has imposed itself on instinct. Nonverbal­its own poetry, paraphrased with difficulty, with loss.

“I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” Here a T-shirt slogan, stripped of figural depth and the tension between body and voice, but factual for all that. Distance running, because it pushes the limits of human endurance, or at least of one’s own fitness, is always about self-knowledge: How much farther can I go, how much faster can I go, without my calf cramping up, without going anaerobic. My training book speaks of glycogen storage, lactate threshold, VO2max, the body as systems cycling in unison. When running, one learns these things in the terms of the body itself: feel this burn, feel that, for a minute, for an hour. If you listen, you learn yourself with every step and mile. Runners know their bodies; the best know their opponents’. Among the elite, science and instinct align.

I am not quite there. What I do know is, I hurt. I know I passed people, and that only one person passed me. Before he did, I know I spilled water on him, then Gatorade. I know my lats were abraded by my armpit hair, though I hardly have lats; I know I didn’t know the rashes until I stopped running. My pain, and my knowledge of it, was of a different kind­bodily, not appendant.

We ran two clockwise six-mile loops on the paved road that circles the park, then hooked around the south side for the final 1.1. I got through the race’s second half by marking off a young black man 15 meters ahead. I couldn’t close on him, even as I picked off every runner he dropped. As 10K remained, then 5, I thought to move, but didn’t think my body could handle the effort. Walkers, then runners, began to clog the lanes, a few on the flattish west side, many on the hilly north, a plague down the east toward and through the start. I watched him weave to the tangents or run way wide; I sometimes followed, other times followed my own lights. He didn’t know I trailed him—­how would he, with thousands behind? The start approached, and the final 1.1. Then four minutes, and I had closed to 10 meters. I finally decided. At a minute and a half out, I came up on him, and went hard by. Even in cross-country, in which I was all-New York City, with a plaque to this effect that read SAM FRANKS, I could never hold off anyone in the last minute. But now I went, and officials shooed us to the emptied inside lane, to the finish: one minute, it looked like. An official called out my 13-mile split; he called his 3 seconds later. From then on, I know I hurt worse than before, but I really can’t remember. I ran through the finish, then staggered to a slump, my hands on my hips with my thumbs facing forward. I heard him seconds after; as he walked by me, slumping still, we turned to shake hands.

I was 21st, out of 5,790 finishers. It’s unclear what passing one more did. I ran 1:18:22, just under 6 minutes a mile, which converts to a 2:45:16 marathon. I want to break 2:45; I want to break 2:37, 6 minutes a mile for 26.2. I have 10 weeks. I don’t yet know how much pain I can inflict upon myself without consequence.

I watch the men’s marathon from the couch when I get home. As a week ago, I drink for urine color, and just stick food in my mouth; soon I’m jumping up every five minutes, but I’m clear. The marathon is run in conditions less brutal than those of the women’s a week earlier, indeed not dissimilar to those of my race that morning: humid, 80 degrees. Everyone starts slowly. A huge pack holds until just before the hour mark, when Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa takes 30 seconds in no time as the hills begin in earnest. Two miles later, he drops back, then out, with an awful grimace.

Vanderlei Lima of Brazil goes soon after, at 1:05, and also gets 30 seconds. A policeman on a bicycle accompanies. Behind him the chase pack dwindles to eight, but the world record holder, Paul Tergat of Kenya, remains, as does an American, Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi, who was born in Eritrea but emigrated to the U.S. as a boy. The pack behind Lima becomes four, then three: Tergat, Meb, and Stefano Baldini of Italy, twice a world marathon bronze medalist. They’re 44 seconds back as they approach the top of the 10-mile hill. Tergat’s tall for a Kenyan, with a long stride suited to the track or a flat 26.2, as in Berlin, where his record was set; Meb’s more typically compact and bouncing, only 5’7″, in a white baseball cap as Deena Kastor was and carrying his water bottles with him for a mile at a time; Baldini’s strong in the arms, squared in the head. Between Eritrea and America, Meb spent a year in Italy, waiting for a visa, and he says to Baldini, in Italian, “Let’s go get him.”

Back from the ad at 1:52, and Tergat has dropped off, his shoulders rolling and his arms swinging high. Four miles to go, and Meb may have the bronze, or better: Baldini’s letting him­making him­lead. Thirty-six kilometers; six to go. The margin’s narrowing; and the camera decides to check in on Lima. What? He’s off the course, tangled in the crowd. What? Replay: He’s rushed from his left by a larger man in a beret, vest, socks to the knee, kilt emblazoned with the Star of David. A white sign flaps on the man’s back, less legible than Lima’s “1234.” The policeman jumps off his bike. Lima’s freed after five seconds, and runs on, visibly fearful, his shoulders rolling and his arms swinging wide. Baldini takes it from Meb. He pulls even with Lima at two hours exactly, ahead at 2:00:01.

“The Grand Prix Priest. Israel Fulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible. The Second Coming Is Near.” A year ago, he ran onto the road during the British Grand Prix, a Formula One car race. For 20 seconds, Cornelius Horan, a defrocked Irish priest, his arms out wide, weaved across the track, cars veering at 150 mph. The sign in his left hand: “Read the Bible—­The Bible is always right.”

Meb passes Lima at 2:01:20. At 2:04:34, he tosses his hat away. His shirt flips up over his belly. His head is shaved and shining. He’s still taking fluid; the Americans are running with science. Baldini’s nod betrays him, but he’s more than 100 meters ahead into the stadium, and finishes at 2:10:55. He uppercuts, kisses the track, lies down. Meb, at 2:11:29, crosses himself twice. Did he have less than Baldini? He had 34 seconds less. And what’s that? Everyone in the field has run a 2:12 marathon in the past, but only two are better today. Lima blows kisses and holds for third, in 2:12:11; down the last straight, he swings his arms wide and weaves across the track, an airplane veering at 12 mph.

All afternoon, Jim Lampley gives updates, always closing the same way: Horan “is certainly not affiliated with any political or terrorist organizations, and appears to be mentally impaired.” Certainly not a terrorist, Lampley repeats, “and we can’t say that strongly enough.” In the meantime, Lima tries to explain what it was, exactly, that knocked him out of first: “I was scared because I didn’t know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver, or something, and whether he was going to kill me. That’s what cost me the gold medal÷. I was very concentrated, knowing I was going to win, and it cut my rhythm.”

We can’t know whether Lima would have won, and we can’t know whether he knew whether he would have won. He crumbled after the attack, but not enough to lose third. Watching him for the race’s last seventh, one couldn’t understand how he’d held two runners as strong as Meb and Baldini at bay, at indeed such a steady margin, for so long. For three quarters of an hour, he’d known himself, and this apolitical nonterroristic attack was on a way of knowing as much as on a person. For what he knew, what he in fact was for those miles, was his body entire. When he thought of a knife, a revolver, a something, he was thinking also of a wound, in the heart or leg or head­to an organ, an appendage. He was hurting in his whole body, but imagined injury to only a part of it. One pain replaced another, and knowledge retreated. The knife cut his rhythm; his concentration was shot.

After the race, I fought through the crowd to meet my cheering section, and we walked to the car. As we approached the Lincoln Tunnel, we saw police vehicles of indescribable shape, massed, anticipating a mass: RNC protestors, moving slowly for ages, maybe two miles in five hours, some ending up, less legally than we, in Central Park. I sat at home nursing myself instead of marching. My second left toenail is purple; I am entirely exhausted. How does a group know itself? How does a pack? How does a body?

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