Somewhere near the 20-mile mark, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself only as Pam. She mentioned my pace seemed pretty good, and I explained that I had walked about 44 of the 50 miles in 1993 and finished in slightly more than 12 hours.
"I want to beat 12 hours," she said. "Do you mind if I tag along?"
For the next six-plus hours we walked at a 14-minute mile pace, talking about whatever came to mind - our jobs, our children, our training (or lack thereof). We kept tabs of which parts of our legs hurt most. We encouraged each other at various times throughout the course.
Turns out she is a squad leader in the Army at Fort Belvoir, near Washington, D.C. Her boyfriend had finished the race in 1995 in 81/2 hours, so she decided to give it a try. She even challenged her squad to try it, and four of them accepted.
During the conversation she mentioned that she would be meeting her boyfriend at the next aid station for some shoe adjustments.
Dave, the boyfriend, was the man with the backpack. He would run ahead of Pam and wait for her to catch up at the next aid station.
I never heard him say a word. He helped bandage the blistered heel of one of Pam's colleagues, carried spare shoes, socks and other supplies for the group, repacked his backpack and jogged to the next aid station.
With four miles remaining, it was apparent that Pam and her entourage would have little difficulty meeting their 12-hour goal, so I moved on and waited at the finish line to thank her again for the company and the encouragement.
Pam had mentioned that she expected to be transferred out of the area soon, and would most likely not return for next year's event. Our paths probably will never cross again, but those were hours I'll not likely forget.
There are few non-threatening situations in life that can provide such great memories is so little time.