After a couple days off, whippet lean, skinny even, 25-year-old Brad Orr went to work Wednesday at Springs Creative near downtown Rock Hill.
He teetered in from the parking lot like an old geezer. He shuffled on sore feet. His hamstring muscles, the big running muscles in the back of the thigh, felt like each had been smashed with a police billy club. The inside thigh muscles had ice picks still seemingly stuck in them.
“Ooii,” said Orr, as he hoisted himself out of his desk chair.
“Stairs?” Orr asked. “A nightmare.”
The plane ride back from Boston on Tuesday was even worse. His legs did not want to bend, or move. He sat like a statue, grimacing.
Orr had a reason to ache. Monday the guy known around Rock Hill as “The Running Guy” went for a bit of a stroll, a saunter about Beantown. Orr ran the 26-mile, 365-yard Boston Marathon.
For runners, the Boston Marathon is the Super Bowl and World Series all in one. Orr, in just his second marathon after years as a distance runner in college at Winthrop University, was South Carolina’s top finisher, coming in 105th overall out of more than 26,000 entrants. It took him 2 hours and 42 minutes of what he said was “first half, a race; the end, brutal, awful, torture.”
Even for dedicated runners such as Orr, a marathon is not a normal run. It is a test of survival. Especially Monday, when temperatures soared to 85 degrees and the pounds of sweat and body mass melted off him. If Orr, who comes from little Piedmont near Greenville, could get any skinnier, he did on Monday. He turned into a bag of bones.
His training for the race pushed 100 miles a week, anywhere from 12 to 20 miles a day in two runs. He’s dodged traffic and dogs and curbs. He’s eaten the brown rice and sweet potatoes for health and energy. He stayed away from beer and any kind of regular fun for weeks. But nothing prepares a mind, and body, for the end of a marathon. Not training, not college running or training around Rock Hill every night after work, or hours-long final exams leading to an MBA in front of demanding professors. Not even a Thanksgiving dinner with unruly relatives who will not leave after a few drinks.
He was number 232 – meaning he was seeded 232nd out of all runners after finishing third in a qualifying marathon in South Dakota last year – but still in the second half of the race his leg muscles spasmed and cramped up, from groin to shin.
“The four hills were the worst,” Orr said. “They call one of the hills Heartbreak Hill in Boston. It was worse than heartbreak. It was like nothing I have ever experienced. The last two miles seemed so – so long. It was just so – so hard.”
Orr did not even notice his fiancée, college sweetheart Brittany Dorn, waving and cheering on Heartbreak Hill. He will pay for that next month when he gets married, but he could not stop to beg forgiveness. Orr had no idea, either, that back at his office, inside the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. where Springs Creative has its team of brainiacs, that the whole place was following his run on the Internet.
This is a place that started a “Let’s Get Moving” campaign for walkers tallying mileage and encouraging fitness. Some people have four or five miles. Orr, disqualified because he runs so much, has 714 miles and that is after forgetting many of his miles.
“We followed his times online Monday through the race, and through text messages you can get, and saw his pace,” said Allen Best, who sits across from Orr. “We would cheer when he speeded up and wonder what was up when his pace slowed down.”
Near the end, only a certain pace would do to keep Orr from falling into a heap on the streets of Boston in front of a half-million spectators.
“Too fast, the cramps killed me, too slow, the cramps were worse,” Orr said. “I found something, a rhythm, and stayed in it.”
But with the finish line finally in sight, at the end of a long straightaway, Orr found renewed strength that just a tiny percentage of people in this world ever experience: He saw the end of a marathon, the Boston Marathon at that, and he would make it. The tens of thousands of spectators there near the finish line cheered for him.
“It sounded like a football stadium,” Orr said. “It was loud and I was running through it.”
He crossed the line just a half-hour after the top runners in the world. Brad Orr had finished the Boston Marathon.
“We all cheered,” said Springs co-worker Jake Smrekar. “An incredible achievement. He doesn’t even think so, though. Some people here didn’t even know he was going. He doesn’t make a big deal of himself.”
“I was happy, too,” said Orr of the finish, in one of his many understatements. He is a humble guy who doesn’t consider what he did such a big deal, although it clearly is huge. Several other area runners finished, too, in times many minutes slower than Orr, to hours slower. But they, too, finished.
“I guess finishing the Boston Marathon is pretty big,” Orr finally conceded.
But at Springs Creative, Orr has little time to walk around like a cranky old neighbor who is the Big Man On Campus until his muscles recover. Saturday, he, Smrekar, Best, and Brian Franklin have to push a bed on wheels down Main Street in the Come-See-Me fundraiser bed race.
Caroline Reeves, another co-worker, will ride the bed.
“He has to show up,” Reeves said. “I’m riding. He’s pushing. He’s our secret weapon.”
A ringer in the bed-running race, is Orr, The Running Guy who just finished 26 miles.
“I’ll be there,” Orr said.
Then Orr shuffled back to his seat, 48 hours after he was the 105th fastest Boston Marathoner.
“Oooh,” he said, as he gingerly sat down. Those buttocks muscles hurt plenty, too.