John Galt: Marathon Man?
by Craig Phillips
This year marked the 26th running of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D. C. For the last few years I have run this race wearing a black shirt with bold white letters on front and back which ask the proverbial question: "Who is John Galt?" It makes running 26.2 miles go by like 24.5. But seriously, it does help. It always seems that at the times I need a boost most, someone from the crowd will yell "Go Ayn Rand!" or "Go Atlas Shrugged!" and lift my spirits. I smile, give a thumbs-up, and add a little spring to my step. After all, if I in some way represent John Galt, I had better run proudly. I certainly can't allow myself to walk or grimace (at least not in front of a crowd).
I run this race very slowly for maximum exposure. Okay, okay, that's not entirely true. I run as fast as I can, but at my five-hour pace, it provides pretty good exposure.
This year's Marathon was exceptional in many ways. It was an absolutely perfect day to run, crisp and clear with light wind. Eighteen thousand excited runners of every race, color, creed, age, and degree of sanity assembled beneath the Iwo Jima monument. We bounced and stretched, laughed and cheered as we moved to the starting line. From my distance back in the pack one can never hear the starting "gun" -even though it's a Howitzer cannon! But the wave of cheers and slow shuffle of feet tell when the race has begun. Thanks to technology, there's no need for haste at the start. Everyone's time begins when the microchip tied to his shoelace passes over a mat that triggers a timer at the starting line. From there, one can run at one's own pace. Technology even provides personal interval and finish times to those with a PC at home. Coaches can watch whole teams. (Thank you, Mr. Gates.)
The overwhelming patriotism I witnessed was something few Baby Boomers have seen. Red, white, and blue were everywhere. People wore flags in every possible fashion from head to toe (even nail polish). Somehow, thousands of people acquired American flag transfer tattoos and put them on their cheeks. Notable patriots included a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, a fire fighter in full regalia (including helmet), a woman airline pilot in uniform who ran with pictures of lost loved ones pinned to her back, and four ladies in red, white, and blue sparkling square-dancing outfits with cowgirl hats, petticoat skirts, star spangled boots and all.
A few very fit and devoted runners bore tall poles with 10-foot flags on their shouldersfor 26.2 miles. And the crowds cheered them on.
The course ran very close to the side of the Pentagon that was hit on September 11. Some runners tripped from staring. The exposed steel glistened in the sun. You could look up and feel yourself standing in any of those hundreds of three-walled offices. Some were still appointed with furniture and pictures. A sole armed guard stood watch on the top corner of the building, but there were many guards on the ground. The Whack! Whack! Whack! of the Chinooks pounded over our heads through this area. It was truly unforgettable. I couldn't look for long as my vision was blurring with tears.
Next, this enormous heard of anorexics ran through a tunnel. Runners always yell and scream in tunnels for the echo effect. This year however it was different. There was a deafening chant: U. S. A! U. S. A! U. S. A! The course doubles back through again about three miles later. The chant was still going.
This year's Marathon was by far the best as far as the "Rand response." Many runners put their names on their shirts in hope that spectators will yell, "Go Mary!" "Go Harry." So naturally, as in past years, people were yelling, "Go John Galt!" "Who is John Galt?" But this year the crowd was amazing. I can tell you without any exaggeration that there were hundreds upon hundreds of people yelling, "Who is John Galt?" throughout my run. Although the majority had no idea of the meaning, I am certain that the phrase clicked with many who heard it being shouted.
Of course what I really enjoy are the comments of those who do recognize the reference. The very first was among the best. A fellow ran up and said, "Pardon me, but can you tell me how Objectivist epistemology integrates with marathon running?" I looked over to see his tongue deeply imbedded in his cheek. I replied, "Well it integrated better last year before they renamed this the People's Marathon." He got a big kick out of that and went on by.
"Who is John Galt?" asked another young man who came up alongside. I told him a bit about Ayn Rand and added that it is a philosophy based on individual rights. He said he would make a point to read it, and added, "That's what made this country great you know." "Yeah, I know," said I.
From other runners I heard: "The man who wouldn't live for the sake of others."
"An obscure literary reference." "Thanks, that gives me something to think about at mile 20." "That's the greatest shirt I've ever seen!"
One runner said, "That's the architect, right?" I told him no, that he was thinking of The Fountainhead. He told me that he had read both a long time ago and had forgotten. He got about 25 feet ahead of me, turned around and shouted back, "But I didn't forget about individual responsibility!"
From the crowd there were dozens of "Go Atlas!" "Go Ayn Rand!" (Georgetown folks are especially astute.) Some others I caught were: "Ayn Rand for President!" "Go Rearden Metal!" "Where's Dagny Taggart?" Sometimes I'd hear the question asked and someone else would answer it!
From an overpass a soldier yelled, "I know who he is!" I looked up and expected the comment to be "You are." But instead he yelled, "Ayn Rand!"
At one point a woman spectator literally ran out of the crowd into the pack of runners and alongside to say, "I just had to tell you that's a really great shirt!"
One family of four, the children in their late teens, yelled, "We know!" They all nodded in affirmation, and Dad said, "Ayn Rand."
But there was one comment I will never forget.
We had just run down the length of the Mall. This area was barren of spectators and eerily quiet save for the ubiquitous helicopters. As we circled behind the Capitol, three soldiers stood at attention blocking the back gate. They wore camouflage and were armed. The young soldier in the center stepped forward and yelled, in that "HOOORAAH" voice only Marines can make: "He stopped the engine of the world, SIR!"
I was simply too astounded to reply. I just turned and gave him the best salute I could muster.