I think it was in the summer of 1970, before my senior year in high school. Someone told me there was a Hendrix College runner who was doing some sort of summer internship at the Methodist Church in Booneville. I contacted him and we ran together several times. The loop north from the high school and back around to Highway 23 is about four miles, which makes a nice jaunt.
Believe it or not, his name was Ronald McDonald. To make things even more amazing, his younger brother, who was also a runner, was named Donald. I can only imagine how much teasing they must have taken over the years. However, they did not let the coincidental humor attached to their names hold them back, for each of them is now Dr. McDonald.
When I ran with Ron, I had no idea how good a runner he was. Later I learned that the McDonalds were two of the better collegiate runners in the state during their stay at Hendrix. Ron still holds the 2-mile and 3-mile records at the school. He was the AAU Runner of the Year in 1972 and had the best collegiate 3-mile time in the state in 1973. Don holds the school records in the mile and the marathon and (except for the national championships) placed first or second in every mile he ran in 1976. I was jogging in some pretty fast company. Both brothers are now members of the Hendrix Athletics Hall of Honor.
As we visited during our run, Ron told me that next time out he would share his observations on the parallels between life and running a marathon. Never having run one (26 miles, 385 yards), I was keenly interested in how he would mesh together the two experiences.
Ron noted that at the beginning of a marathon the participants are generally very loose and optimistic. Except for the highest level, each runner mainly competes against his own past performances, and not so much against other participants. Since the pace is slow, runners are able to visit if they want to until the pack begins to string out. So it is with children. They are very unconcerned with competition. They mainly spend their time in having fun, without stress.
Soon the long “snake” of runners begins to stretch out and the race moves into its middle phase. The visiting dies down and the runners begin to concentrate on getting a good time. If they are going to improve their personal records, this is where it will be done. This is where they must push things along. So it is with adults. They are the workers; they face the long hours and the stress. They are the ones that have to “get on with the business” that the children could afford to ignore until they got older.
I have heard it said that the last six miles of a marathon are as hard as the first twenty, and I believe it. As the runners head into the last phase of the race, many are merely trying to survive. “Just let me make it to the finish line so I can say I did it!” So it is in many cases with the elderly. Life becomes a trial. King Solomon called old age “the evil days” because of the deterioration of our physical capabilities and the hardships that come with the decline in our health.
I have thought many times in the ensuing years about the words of Ron McDonald and how apt they were. I wasted a lot of time as a child by being concerned only with having fun; but I put in some long, stressful hours in my prime. And more and more these days, as the road gets steeper, I catch myself wondering how far it is to the finish line.