009: A Complete Stranger Forced Me to Finish My First Marathon

And in the process taught me what run


The Start of the Journey

I was never supposed to be a runner. Weighing in at 245 lbs., I was big, strong, and bulky. I was a weightlifter. And I could bench press nearly two times my body weight. Eventually I reached a point where I even started teaching others how to get in better shape.


But when my doctor told me the news, I was in shock.


“You have nerve damage. You won’t able to lift any weights for at least a couple of years.”

At that point, weightlifting was my life. I loved the feeling of crushing a personal record or mastering a new exercise. It’s what kept me sane. It was my outlet. And to be honest, it’s what got me through my parents’ divorce.


“What the hell am I gonna do now?”


After a couple of weeks of pouting and slight depression, I finally picked myself up and decided I was going to find a new outlet. My plan was to run a marathon.


With my longest run being just a couple miles, I started my journey with very little experience. Nonetheless, I set off on my first run a couple of weeks after nerve damage left me unable to lift my arm above my shoulder.


That run went horribly, and I barely made it a half mile before I was forced to stop. But, I kept at it, week after week and month after month. Eventually I got in good enough shape to where I felt confident enough to sign up for the Dallas Marathon.


The next 4 months I dedicated solely to training for the 26.2 miles. I followed a strict training plan and implemented the mindset I learned from weightlifting into my preparation. When I finally lined up on race day, I was in great shape — both mentally and physically. I was ready to tackle yet another physical challenge, although I wasn’t aware of how different this one would be.



The Act of Selflessness

As I started the race, a stream of emotions flashed through my head. From my nerve damage fueled depression to lining up at the start of a marathon — it was all a blur.


“Wow, okay, I’m really doing this. I’m actually here and going to run a freaking marathon!”


Dozens of thoughts streamed through my head and eventually I realized I wasn’t even focusing on the race. I pretty much zoned out. I was so emotional that I almost forgot I was running a marathon. The next thing I knew, I looked up and I was already a couple of miles into the race.


The rest of the race went well. Or so I thought.


I felt fresh, strong, and super upbeat. I was high-fiving people, singing and having a great time. I reached the halfway mark exactly at my pace goal of 8'00" per mile. And I carried this all the way through to about mile 20. Everything was looking on track to hit my goal of 3 hours and 30 minutes.


Then, just 4 miles before the finish, my legs started cramping and I hit the infamous ‘‘wall’’ I’d heard so much about. I took a moment to compose myself and stopped to stretch out my hamstrings As I looked to my left I noticed the guy I’d been running next to for most of the race.


How’s it going man?” I said to him jarringly.


He was also cramping and we started chatting as we attempted to get back into it. Bonding over our cramping legs, we continued to chat for a minute or two. He could tell I was really struggling.


In a brief moment of pain, adrenaline and fear of not finishing, I asked Stephen if he wanted to finish out the race together. Without hesitation, he agreed.

And from there on out, Stephen stuck by my side for the rest of the race.




When I cramped again at mile 24, Stephen stopped with me until I was ready to keep going. When I got extremely light headed at mile 25, he again stopped with me until I felt good enough to stand up. I ended up finishing my first marathon, right next to the guy I met at mile 22 of the race.


He’s the reason I was able to finish the race at all. If it weren’t for Stephen, I don’t think I’d have been able to work through those painful leg cramps at mile 22.


His casual conversation over those last few miles kept my mind off my cramping muscles. And his constant support to keep going allowed me to accomplish the goal I’d set out for myself. But perhaps most importantly, Stephen taught me an invaluable lesson about running and life.


It was incredibly humbling to witness how selfless this guy was. Not only did he stick by my side for 4 miles but he also sacrificed his PR and race performance by helping me finish the race.


Stephen’s act of selflessness exemplifies what the running community is all about. Sure, PR’s are great, but there’s more to running than meets the eye. The running community is unique and unbelievably supportive. Regardless of your age, gender, or skill level, if you’re a runner, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You have millions of people willing to lend a hand if needed.


That’s what the running community is about. It’s about reaching your fullest potential and helping others do the same along the way.


It’s about going farther than you thought possible and then reaching back and pulling up to you.

Everyone is constantly striving for their best, but not at the expense of others’ success. It’s a powerful lesson we can use in our lives, careers and relationships. And I have Stephen to thank for teaching me it.


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© 2020 By Devin Arrigo.