The moon had barely begun to set. The stars had not yet been shooed away.
Yet hundreds of feet were already pounding concrete and asphalt. Aside from the occasional grunts and coughs, and the skid of rubber on pavement, it was silent. It was as if we were all attending Mass. Or following a dirge. Or going up some holy mount.
It was the 15K.
One of the weirdest distances in running.
In Long Distance Run parlance, 5K is usually the acknowledged beginner’s run. 10K is more serious, but the “experts” still sprint through them (The Kenyans stride through them like gazelles). 21K, the half-marathon, is usually the next distance to be covered, the signal that a runner is now dead serious (aside from the new, expensive shoes). The 15K is a midway point. A concession between the enthusiasts and the athletes. It’s like pre-pubescence. Or the pre-teens section in SM. Or merienda. Or Engagement. There but not quite.
Not all running events offer the 15k. Most only offer the 5 and 10 in their fun runs. Others have 5, 10, then 21. Probably because many organizers see it as a frivolity, a luxury to be able to offer a midway point, when so many others want to run the “formal” distances. Thank God then, for those who offer this luxury, because there are runners who need it. They need this bridge. They need this Tiber on which to cast the die of their running career.
Thus, it was solemn. Everyone running it probably knew that it was a special gift to be granted the distance. Gone were the barkadas who just wanted to chit-chat from gunstart to finish line. Gone were the photography-enthusiasts who stopped every now and then to take pictures. Gone were the poseurs who had every gadget strapped to a muscle but could not finish well. Here were those who were seriously contemplating their future, halfway between Hades and Olympus.
No medal awaited us. The 21 and 32ks were the “Glory” distances, worthy of metal strapped to cloth. There was just, hopefully, the inner assurance, that if we finish well, we were only 6 kilometers away from the Half Marathon, and 5 kilometers away from our former selves.
We were amateurs, seeking to defy the sinew and certainties nature had outlined for us. We were all silent, as we respected the road, one another’s unspoken yet clear desires expressed only through exhales, the task that challenged our humanities, and the loads of ointment we would probably need after.
We were all silent, as we ran through this purgatory at moonset.