The taste of salt is always present.
Easing from our pores and caking on the back of our neck, our forehead, lower back and behind our knees, only to crumble and fall to the ground when we are home again.
It is also in the air, wafting in from the sea, across the beach and dunes, and permeating every bit of space around us as it has no choice but to do.
Salt air is what we know, and even what we are. Well, that and the journey.
This, life, everything, is about the journey, where we are, and how we should get there, and if we can just go step by step, and if we can plot those steps, somehow trusting in nature, and the idea that the universe has a plan for us, and for itself, it will all be okay.
This is also means that there is no complaining, not when we are tired, not when we are hurt, nor when the weather changes our plans, or the path we are on has somehow shifted under our feet.
We move forward, always forward, drawing on our past experiences, community, and collective knowledge, but with our eyes set on getting where we need to go, and appreciating greatness if and when it comes.
And so it has been for us.
We put on our running shoes, our hat, we adjust our watch, pack something light to snack on, and some water, we greet the dog, who is always waiting right there, and ready to go.
It is our daily ritual, the same time of day, every day, the same goals intact, go, go far, and when we can, go fast.
We run through town, we check our breathing, steadying ourselves, in and out, calm, slow, easing along, feet, how do they feel, heel, toes, and we work our way up, shins, anything tweaky there, knees, always an ache, especially now, and since before the trials, hamstrings, still taut, but loosening, breathe, hips, fine, lower back, good, shoulders, still tense, arms, no problem, need to synch them with your legs, your breath, your head, need to clear your head, don’t look forward, don’t think about Los Angeles, whether it will be hot, or muggy, or what Grete, Ingrid, or Rosa might be thinking, whether they are thinking of you as they too are running wherever they are, Norway or Portugal, Colorado, who knows, can’t focus on them, the race is always first and foremost with ourselves.
As we ease out of Cape Elizabeth and away from home, as the buildings grow sparse, the cars sporadic, and anyone besides us begins to fade into nothingness we head towards Shore Road and the coast, past Smugglers Cove, the occasional spray from the ocean dotting our foreheads and legs, or maybe out into Crescent Beach State Park, the salt air mixing with the scent of the ash trees, and we begin to lose ourselves to the rhythm of each step, and it is only here, now, as our pace builds, our vision blurs, and we slowly consume the ground beneath our feet, that we begin to let our guard down, and we begin to picture what greatness could look like.
We see ourselves as part of a collective consciousness, a community of women who run fiercely, and beautifully, with power, and grace, who go fast, and ripple like waves across a lake in every direction, and across time, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Wilma Rudolph, Roberta Gibb, Nina Kuscsik, Miki Gorman, trailblazers, and pioneers all, and it is on their steps we run, and it is on their sacrifices we build.
And this we know, here, now, and fervently, we are greatness, we are fast, we are champions, and we will win gold if the weather cooperates, the knee holds up, and the game plan clicks.
Is that too much to expect, or hope for, it is not, not when you think about how many steps we have taken out here, and not when you can see it, right there in front of you, just in reach, and just within your grasp.
We pack our bags and we head west to Los Angeles.
The athletes are everywhere, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Sebastian Coe, and so many women, so many amazing women, Nawal El Moutawakel, Zola Budd, Xu Haifeng, and Mary Lou Retton, and we keep our head down, and we wait our turn to make history as they have, because it will be our turn, and we will go fast, now, here, it is our time.
The gun goes off just as we’ve heard so many time before, and Ingrid is there, and Rosa and Grete, and it is hot as we knew it would be, and smoggy, but none of it matters, not today, it is our time, and we know there will be a battle, there has to be, so many fine runners, so many great women, and history waiting to be written, here, now, right now. There will only be one inaugural Olympic women’s marathon, and there can only be one winner.
We push early, the women will need to commit now, or become witnesses to history, and when we push they do not respond in kind, they do not come with us, there is no battle, no hunger or desperation, and we are running through the streets of Los Angles by ourselves, and it is like a training run, and we catalogue how we feel, and we feel fine, so we keep going, step after step, faster and faster, and we wait for someone to catch up to us, and someone to say you cannot just have this, we have been training too, and we too are part of something, not just you alone.
But it does not happen, we go and go and go, and then we are in the Stadium, and we are alone, but not exactly, not really, because you, Joan Benoit, you are part of history now, a history of women, and greatness, and now we can go home again.
Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father’s House, You Can Make Him Like You, and the forthcoming Orphans, among others. Ben also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life, the center of his growing lifestyle empire.