October 03, 2014

This one's for the wild old man

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I signed up to do a marathon tomorrow. Not just any marathon, but rather Freedom's Run, which goes over the ground of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry as well as the battlefield at Antietam, which was the Union victory Lincoln was waiting for before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

I have a thing for John Brown and Harpers Ferry. Brown was like a monkey wrench thrown by God into the machinery of American slavery. His raid was a disaster in every detail even though in a way it succeeded on a grand scale. Similarly, Brown seems to have failed at pretty much every undertaking in life except the big one. It reminds me of some lines by Dylan about a lone soldier who won the war in the end "after losing every battle."

Then there's Antietam. That battle provided was is still the single bloodiest day in American history, with around 23,000 casualties. It was probably Union General George McClellan's best moment, even though he didn't follow through. By a weird coincidence, the Union army gained knowledge of Lee's planned Confederate advance into northern territory by sheer coincidence when the orders were found in an abandoned campsite wrapped around cigars.The Battle has been called "the crossroads of freedom."

Aside from geeking John Brown and the Civil War, the whole ancient Greek connection speaks to me as well. The name comes from the fields where the ancient Athenians defeated a much larger invading Persian army. By tradition, the runner who brought the news back to Athens 25 or so miles away said "Rejoice, we conquer" when he got there--and then dropped dead. (There's more to the story, but that will do for now.")

I thought my marathon days were over. My last as 12 years ago and I figured quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 put the kibosh on it. But I could never put the idea completely out of my mind. After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the itch came back. I decided to shoot for Freedom's Run if I remained injury free, slow as I may be.

I'm not sure I'll make it to the finish line, what with a bad heart and a host of knee and foot injuries. I'd give 50/50 odds if I was into betting. I was a little discouraged to learn that the course becomes very hilly between miles 15 and 22--the point in the race where the major misery kick in. But then suffering is part of what you look for in a marathon and plenty of better guys than me met a worse fate at the same spot.

Game on. But don't wait up. This is going to take a while.

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