Russ Shoberg; Maine Marathon runner #92; 05Oct2014; finish time 4:30:40
This story starts in August at this year’s Maine Run for the Fallen where my buddy Doug Kerr and I talked with a couple of charismatic Marines and learned about The Summit Project. I took a flyer and promised to spend some time thinking about how I fit in with TSP. Two days later, I requested permission to carry a hero’s stone in this year’s Maine Marathon on 05October. I was granted permission to carry Captain Benjamin Keating’s stone. Shortly thereafter, Doug asked and received permission to carry Sgt. Joshua Kirk’s stone in the half-marathon as well. The story of their day together will be told by Doug.
Early on race morning Doug arrived at my house to ride down to the start in Portland. Prior to leaving my house, we shared a prayer over the stones, asking for a clarity of purpose, that we run our events with dignity and humility while honoring our heroes AND their families (our purpose for the day). We arrived in Portland with plenty of time to spare so we walked the boulevard sharing what we had learned about Ben and Josh, and catching each other up on the past week. We remarked about the signboards citing inspirational scriptures we found posted along the course. These reminded me of the connection Ben had with his home church, serving as a youth leader and Sunday School teacher.
As we arrived back near the corral area near the start time, we found some friends and Doug’s family who had arrived later. We shared hugs and good luck wishes with all and then separated to get ourselves ready for the day ahead. Even though we promised to meet up ‘near the water table’, that was the last time we saw each other until later on the course. In hindsight, it was fitting for us to start the race alone with our hero “on board” (ironically, among 3000-plus other anxious people).
After listening to a terrific rendition of ”The Star Spangled Banner”, I heard the countdown and started my running day with a booming cannon shot. The first mile or so was run in a crowd of people all trying to find their stride and without much talking. As the pack began to stretch out, some conversations started up, often questions about my ACU camo kilt or why my hydration pack didn’t have a drinking tube (not a crazy question at all). That gave me a chance to tell people what I was carrying in that pack, and a bit about what I knew of Captain Ben Keating. More importantly, it gave me a chance to tell people why I was running in his memory – to honor Ben and his surviving family, and to share the story and mission of TSP.
As would be expected, running 26.2 miles is never simple or easy on the mind and body. Having run some marathons in my past, I knew that there would be lots of good miles, as well as some tough miles later on. After getting loosened up over the first hour, and talking about Ben with several new friends, I was approaching the point in the race where the marathon and half-marathon runners split off. That’s where Doug and I saw each other for the first time since being ‘lost’ before the start. We stopped for a quick hug and encouragement to “get it done for Ben and Josh!”, and headed off in opposite directions, to run alone among a bunch of strangers again.
From miles nine through 16, the miles were flowing by. I took some short breaks to take photos with Ben’s stone. When I wasn’t sharing Ben’s story, I spent time reflecting on what he might have had to say at that point or in silent prayer for his family, and all the families of our Maine heroes. Around mile 18, the ‘work’ began as fatigue started to settle in. I was feeling the weight on my back, and feeling the road. As the packs of runners began to thin out, there were still opportunities to continue sharing Ben’s story with people that ended up alongside me for a while. When I found myself running alone, I kept reminding myself that I was not really alone. I had Ben’s stone and his story with me, as well as a purpose for why I was out there that day.
Between 18-20 miles, the fatigue accumulated, and the “bear on my back” feeling hit me. I considered all of the fatigue and pain that Ben must have endured during his training and service. This helped to remind me of why I had Ben’s stone in my back and a bit of his story in my head. At 20 miles, Doug’s family came into view on the side of the road. After some quick hugs and a “Thanks for being out here”, his wife Charissa said that she was going to run the last leg with me. Along the way, we talked about our mutual participation in past Run for the Fallen events, our respect for those that answer the call of duty and the sacrifices that military families make. She got to hear me share Ben’s story with more people along the way back into Portland. Our silent stretches were spent in reflection and prayer for those that we were honoring that day.
As we turned onto Baxter Boulevard for that long homestretch to the finish, we found ourselves amidst a few runners nearing the end of their first marathons. Telling Ben’s story again reminded me of the leadership qualities he exhibited in his church, his community, during college at UNH, and in his Army service. Those thoughts prompted me to put my experience into action and help to lead some newbies to their finish. At the 26 mile point, I took Ben’s stone out of the pack and ran that last stretch with his hero’s stone visible for the crowd to see. Once again that day, it seemed that Ben ‘showed up’ to help pull other people to their objective.
I hope that my efforts on the course that day helped to honor Capt. Keating and his family. I also hope that by sharing a bit of Ben’s story with strangers made an impact that day to ensure that Ben and all other Maine Heroes Are Not Forgotten. The things I learned about Capt. Keating and his service in Afghanistan will stick in my memory for a long time. I know that I will remember my time spent on the road that day with his stone in my pack and his story in my head for a long, long time. –Russ Shoberg