Last Tuesday I was running with a local athlete. I was running a 30-minute TT with them. These are challenging. They were pushing hard and unable to talk much. It was early in the morning and I was trying to entertain. I spoke of some of the things that I thought about while running. Later that night I sat at the keyboard to write a short photo essay that was due the next day.
The Man with the Hammer
I craned my neck around the corner trying to catch a glimpse of the man with the hammer. It was too early. There was no sight of him. I had not been running long enough for him to show himself. Instead I saw the aid station. I stepped to my left and ran past the first dozen water bearers. I checked over my shoulder and made a quick right and grabbed a cup of the elixir. I pinched the waxed papered vessel and drank the tangy green fluid. It was bitter but I knew that I had to take on sustenance. The man with the hammer would punish mistakes.
I kept running further and further. My guide ahead was blocking the wind. I had been running with this man for miles. Although we were strangers we belonged to the same clan. We were well matched and I took comfort in following his lead. We were adversaries on paper but we needed each other. At times I would stride ahead and he would take his place behind. We alternated a half dozen times. The draft, although slight provided relief. It allowed for us to conserve our efforts. Our energy stores were depleting rapidly. What had been easy earlier in the day was now pushing us to our limits. Any amount of reduced effort, real or imagined was welcomed. Our journey was far from over.
I had heard stories of the man with the hammer. I knew of how he preyed on the strong. He wanted to bring failure to those that risked the most. He selected the ones with the most on the line. The fallen spoke of how he came upon you in a flash with amazing swiftness. A man of such great stature should not move so quickly. That huge half oak mallet on his shoulder should surely slow him down. But no, he attacked with fleetness and bravado. He had no fear. He always hit his mark. He rarely failed.
There is a thin line between respect and fear. I definitely had respect for the man with the hammer. Maybe I had fear. Even if true I would never speak those words aloud. This fear would have to remain in the cramped compartments of my mind. This whisper of truth would be contained in the same places that other fears are locked away. I had conquered much in the past. Overcome much. There was a need for facing fears, for overcoming obstacles. Life had become complacent again. So now I was challenging the man with the hammer. The man with the hammer was something to run from, something to chase down.
We crested a small rise and there he was standing on the sidelines. I first saw the steel tooled helmet with the horns. He stood just behind the crowd of cheering spectators. He towered over them. That mighty oaken hammer rested on his shoulder. Only the sturdiest lumber was used in its construction. It was a near half oak timber with a huge squared block placed on the end. The block was fashioned to the half oak with tanned animal hides. Although it had been carefully carved and worked by craftsmen it was a crude instrument. It was welded with no skill or finesse. It was a blunt weapon that overpowered you. As we passed the man with the hammer I saw that his eyes were trained on us. His eyes were trained on me. I quickly broke the stare and continued running. I needed to keep my wits. I could not allow any distraction, which is what he wanted.
I took on more nourishment. My guide had retaken the lead. He had been running softly and in near silence. His foot falls were now heavy. I could hear the rhythmic slapping of pavement. His breath was labored. His time was short. We both knew it but our lips did not move. You cannot speak of such things.
My head was moving back and forth scanning for the man with the hammer. I knew he was near. We kept the pace. I reassured myself that my body was tough and that my mind was strong. Most of the battle was over. The easy miles were behind us.
And then it happened. More swiftly then I could have ever imagined. The man with the hammer was in the middle of our path. He had his mighty half oak lifted above his head held with both of his powerful arms. The head of the hammer, really more like a solid butchers block hit my guide. He staggered and weaved to the right. With his legs wobbling he told me to go on, to be strong, to continue the fight. I dared not look at him. I could not stop to help. I feared the man with the hammer.
I could see journeys end but it was not yet within reach. I could not stop. The pain was sharp and real. I wanted to stop. I knew that if I wavered that a confrontation with the man with the hammer would always lead to defeat. I wanted to fight until the end. I needed to fight until the end. I continued on at my chosen rate. I saw others who had battle and lost. Their wounds were evident. Their legs were cramped and twisted. They were drenched in sweat. They ached with each and every foot fall. And yet they continued. They heaped praise upon me. They told me I looked strong. They told me that the end was near. They had lost to the man with the hammer. They needed someone to survive unscathed. We are a small group. They championed me just as I have championed them. When one achieves we all achieve.
I could see my journeys end. I saw the man with the hammer for a final time. He knew that the race was over. He had missed his chance. He was waiting for me. His mighty half oak was propped against the finishers shoot, no longer on his shoulder. That scowl that I had feared was gone. It has been replaced with a grin. The man with the hammer slapped me on the back with such strength that he nearly pushed me to my knees. I was propelled across the line. I knew I could stop. I had battled the man with the hammer and won.