To me, few things are more inspiring than witnessing human beings taking on significant challenges and then doing their best. Especially their very best.
When people willfully commit to something hard in order to push their boundaries, it is then that the nobility of the human spirit is manifest. Today I saw that human nobility on plain display in Noble Canyon, California—the site of a grueling ultra marathon. I was there with family to support my 26 year-old daughter, Rachel, a young mother of three, in her 33 mile run over terrain that would tax a Hummer.
Rachel and her running partner, Melissa Kleiner, had made the decision to enter this race a mere four months prior. To even come close to being prepared for this kind of a test in that amount of time required a lot of discipline and sacrifice right from the start. Many of their runs required arising in the wee morning hours so they could fit their training into their normal load of commitments. For Rachel, who just gave birth to Lora in February, it meant arising at 3:30 a.m. in order to nurse the baby before her runs. To me, such discipline bespeaks nobility.
Both Rachel and Melissa are fit and athletic, but neither had run distances approaching an ultra marathon. From the very beginning their goal was to simply finish the race in under 9 hours—the official cut-off time for the event.
At the 7:05 a.m. start, 138 very fit runners commenced. Not all of them finished. Along the route, I saw nobility in the attitudes and actions displayed by both the runners and the many volunteers who served them at the aid stations. Example after example of runners helping other runners, and volunteers going “above and beyond” to help someone they did not even know reach a personal goal was inspiring and humbling.
I saw nobility again when Melissa arrived at an aid station deep into the race. The 21.7 miles had clearly taken their toll. She was hurting. You could just see the pain in her eyes, and they began to well with tears. For a second I thought, “oh oh, this might be it.” She stood there for a moment, head bowed, hands on her hips. Then, she straightened her back, lifted her head, and let us know that she was not about to quit. “Fill up my camel back. Make sure it’s full this time, I need to get going,” she said.
It was plain that a victory had been fought and won in those brief seconds. Melissa had been tempted to quit, but she fought off the doubts and the pain, and made the decision to keep fighting. A few minutes later nobility ran up the hill for the last 11.3 miles, making her body do what her mind had set out to do from the start—to finish.
The final scenes of nobility were unforgettable and priceless. From our vantage point near the finish line, we could only see the final quarter mile. Our anxiety grew as the time waned. The ticking of the seconds, plainly evident before us on the official race clock, seemed to ridicule our hopes of two happy endings, as the official close of the race at the 9-hour mark drew nearer and nearer.
Estimating Rachel’s progress from the time we had last seen her (leaving Aid Station Four, 11.3 miles earlier) we knew, if her body did not “hit the wall,” she had a good chance of finishing—of even coming in well ahead of the 9-hour cut-off. We even started hoping for the possibility that she might finish under 8 hours. But the clock was relentless. 7 hours and 50 minutes went by. No Rachel. 7:52:00 went by. No Rachel. 7:53:00 went by too. About that time we knew that if we didn’t see her within a minute or so, she would not be able to cover the final quarter mile in time to get there under 8 hours.
And then, we saw a head…a brunette…with a gray shirt…a lot like Rachel’s. Yes! It was Rachel! 7 hrs and 54 minutes and some seconds!! Still enough time to make it under 8 hours! We screamed and yelled and almost ruptured our vocal chords cheering her on. Official time: 7 hrs, 55 minutes and 50 seconds!
In the minutes that followed Melissa too made her appearance, well ahead of “closing time.”
Rachel and Melissa both reached their goals. They finished ahead of the official cut-off time of 9 hours. The winner, 50 year-old, amazing Eric Clifton crossed the finish line in 4 hours 44 minutes. Yet their victory was no less impressive nor any less sweet. Making yourself carry on when every step is a pain, completing what you set out to do, no matter how hard it gets, that’s nobility. And, manning the aid stations, unselfishly doing things to help others reach their goals? Well, that’s nobility too.