Running 26.2 miles will make your feet scream in pain; it will give you blisters the size of Texas; it will cause you to chafe in places you didn’t even know existed; your legs will beg for mercy; you will curse the person who talked you into doing this; you will suffer gut-wrenching fatigue; and you will likely hate yourself and every single person around you at some point. And this is exactly why everyone should run a marathon.
Marathons are funny that way. Not every mile will feel this way of course, but chances are there will be a “dark” stretch or two throughout the three or four hours that it takes. One minute you’re on top of the world, on your way to a new PR and asking, “Should I do Boston 2011 or 2012?” Then you turn a corner and run smack into that cruel brick wall. I hate that wall. All of a sudden, every step feels increasingly worse, every thought turns negative and every breath becomes more labored than the last. Forget Boston at this point. The question now becomes, “Why. Am. I. Doing. This?”
The answer is found during the endorphin rushes of course, the ups–not the downs—of those long miles and after crossing the finish line, when those feel-good hormones are at their peak. Much like a new love at that point, you only remember the wonderful things about those 26.2 miles (which is why we marathoners continue to torture ourselves, race after race).
I adore the screaming crowds. I don’t care who they are really cheering for, when I pass them, in my mind, it’s all for me. There is the person waving an American flag, the little girl giving you a high-five and passing out orange slices and the man holding a sign that says, “The reason your feet hurt is because you are kicking ass.”
Then there are my fellow runners. Running with thousands of strangers might seem lonely, but in actuality, the more miles that pass, the more they become like old friends. There is the 70-year-old man greeted by his grandchildren at the finish line, the woman with breast cancer running because she can, the group of college roommates celebrating their 40th birthdays and the man running with a sign on his back that says, “For my wife, in heaven.”
Internally, there are feelings of power, determination, courage and beauty that surge like the shuttle on a clear morning. Suddenly, you are the most powerful person in the universe. It’s a time of true surrender to your God-given abilities. There is new-found energy and motivation you didn’t even know existed.
In the early years of marathoning, you may question whether you can make it, whether you will finish. Later years then become about doing it within a certain time goal. That’s when it becomes serious business. Sometimes I don’t know where the strength comes from to do this; it just does. And when it does, there is no greater connection to your own spirituality. There is an indescribable lightness out there.
We runners have something many other people don’t. We have a fire in our bellies that burns at 6am and propels us out of bed and out the door. We have the sense that others often question when we try to dodge an impending thunderstorm because we gotta get the miles in. We rely on our GPS watches to not allow us to stop at 9.95 miles when 10 was the goal. Life’s to-do’s get fit in between runs–never the other way around.
No matter how much you hurt—especially during the last few miles, the pain mysteriously vanishes during the last half mile. Happens every time. The finish line is in sight, crowds are getting louder, music is roaring, you make a final push and later discover on your GPS that this is when you ran your fastest. Your name is announced and photographers are there to capture the moment. Then sweet angels swoop in after you cross the line to wrap you in a heavenly space blanket and, if you’re really lucky, hand you a cup of hot chicken broth. My throat becomes tight when they say “Congratulations” and put the medal around my neck. Every time I say I won’t cry, but nevertheless, when I try to say “Thank you”, tears come out instead of words.
Over the course of the last 13 marathons, I like to think I have learned a thing or three about them. The biggest lesson being that no matter how tough it gets out there, there is still no other high quite like this. Nothing else make you feel so whole while literally tearing you apart. And there is no reason and no pain big enough to stop anyone from experiencing the agony of victory that only comes after 26.2 miles.
Photo: ING New York City Marathon