Post Marathon Thoughts
“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” – Emil Zatopek
If the title of this piece caught your attention, I am guessing you’re reading for one of the following reasons:
1. You are currently training for a marathon.
2. You just completed an event, and are currently going through withdrawal, desperately looking for something to remind you of the run.
3. You’re teetering on the edge of signing up for a marathon- so you are secretly asking everyone you know about marathons and secretly going on running sites during your lunch hour.
4. You have run marathons before and are now injured, looking for any type of fix to satisfy the void you feel in your life.
5. Someone you know and/or love runs marathons and you are trying to make some sense of their insane ritual.
Whatever your reason for finding this article, you did. And if you didn’t already know it, you are about to find out that training for a marathon goes far beyond miles on the pavement. The event lasts longer than the time it takes to get from start to finish. And, it is true when people say that one finishes a marathon a different person, walking away with a sense of pride that no one can take away.
I know all of these about marathons, and I know the satisfaction I feel when I complete one. This is partly why I run them, but not entirely. I also know that the training and the run itself bring about forms of pain and discomfort that many would argue man should not be subjected to voluntarily.
Yet I still run. And gladly. Why do I, why do you, why does anyone suffer through long training runs in all sorts of heat and cold, battling stomach ailments, injuries, strains, missing toenails, and a compromised social life? Why? (And if you’re reading this as a possible wanna-be marathoner, you may be asking, just why the hell should I sign up for this anyway?)
Well, my friends, I run, and I suspect many of you do as well, because we realize that the trials of doing a marathon closely resemble the trials of life. And, perhaps dealing with these trials that we choose to endure helps us know that we can endure anything that life throws us that we don’t exactly sign up for.
In fact, if you think about it… the 26.2 miles of highs, lows, and everything in between can be compared to our lives. Really. Let’s examine this a bit more closely. As you read, think about any challenging situation that you have had to go through in your life- divorce, job loss, move, death of loved ones, illness, or just plain temporary disillusionment. Before these things happen, more often than not, everything is pretty normal. You’re plugging along, ready to start your day. You’re excited, generally happy, living your life.
Miles 1 and 2 of a marathon are like this. You start out slowly, navigating your way through the crowd. Sure there are blips, there are people in front of you blocking your way that may annoy you… but you are happy to be running. You are energized by the crowd and things around you. Bring it on, you think.
Miles 3 through 5 are more of the same. So far, you have been going and feeling great. In fact, you are feeling so great that when you hit mile 5, you are surprised. Am I here already? Wow! I am fit. I am ready for anything life has to offer me. This- this marathon, this life is so darn motivating. What can’t I do!
Miles 6 and 7 come on, and you start to think about what is in front of you. You realize you’re in for a journey, and for the first time, you allow yourself to question just why you signed up for this. In life- this is the point that something troubling begins to creep into an otherwise happy existence. “Huh,” you think, “Something feels off.” But you have no idea of what that is.
Never fear, miles 8 and 9 come more quickly than you thought and you are rejuvenated, temporarily full of pride that you are nearing the halfway point. Not there yet… but you can logically feel it in your head. In life, this is like a temporary reprieve from the problem that is brewing… it’s out there, alright, but not yet close enough for you to see or feel. Luckily, you have enough going on so that you do not yet notice the thick clouds overhead.
At mile 10 you are so distracted that you have hit the mark of two digits that you don’t see the storm that is just around the bend. Now it’s just a matter of a 16-mile long run, you tell yourself, in hopes of fooling for just a moment.
Miles 11 and 12 are here, and the trouble is officially brewing. Things that were once pleasant, runners whose company you thought you enjoyed the first ten miles… they are now beginning to morph into the Forces of Evil. In a real life crisis, this is the point when you realize something is definitely up. You are looking at the problem and know that the only way to go is forward, yet that seems more difficult than you could ever imagine.
13.1 and halfway there. Yip yip hooray. For a minute millisecond, this halfway point means something to you. If you could do the first 13.1, you can surely continue for the next. Right? You use this same logic in the life crisis section of the marathon. Regardless of the marathon you’re in… people have gotten through this before- but can you? Of course you can, because you’re TOUGH.
Mile14- A second wind is starting to form and you get your groove back… enough to initiate a self-induced kick in the butt. You are not getting to the finish line by whining. No siree. YOU are a fighter, so fight… dammit. You try to fight, in this marathon, just as you would if you were entrenched in one of life’s marathons. When the going gets tough… YOU get going. Right? So you take that gel you’ve been saving for just this moment, slurp it down with some water, and carry on.
Carry on until 15 when you realize its time to make a porta potty stop. You’re thinking right about now that life is pretty crappy, in more ways than one. Runners ahead of you are ticking you off; runners behind you are ticking you off. In fact, EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is ticking you off. And guess what… only 11.2 to go. In the scheme of life’s problems, this is the moment you realize that you are officially at the point of no return. You know the problem. You see its ugly face looking at you head on. It’s hard, and you are the only person who can get through it. Yet, at this moment in time, you are feeling so gosh darn crappy that you don’t know what you’re going to do. So, you look for power gel in the form of friends and family, therapists, Wellbutrin… whatever it takes to get you from here to there.
Which, at this point you’re wondering…. WHERE THE HELL IS THERE? Does a 16-mile marker EXIST? Are race officials playing a nasty trick on you and have they moved it? Has a dwarf hidden it??? FOR GOD’S SAKE???? And… just when you think you can’t run another step, you see it. It is a diamond in the rough, and you could kiss it. The sign, like the mini saviors we find in our lives… literally is the only thing keeping you going.
Again with a second wind. Or is it fifth or sixth? At this point, nothing is clear other than the fact that you know you need the people you see on the course to guide you, help you, cheer for you. You realize you cannot do this alone. Even doing it with help is questionable. Your mind… right now… is not working so well. You know your problems; they could not be more evident. Side ache, stomachache, leg ache… you’re pretty sure every part of your body hurts. You’re also pretty sure that you hate everything within a five-mile radius. YET… you also know that somewhere deep inside all of your pain lies an inner reserve that you never knew you had. Oh yes, like a gigantic bottle of Gatorade, you are pulling out all the stops now, and something inside you is kicking in… Albeit slowly… to save you.
17, then 18 come about two lifetimes later and it is with annoyance rather than joy that you greet these markers. THIS ISN’T WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR, you roar.
THIS is first of all, supposed to be 19 or 20 and you’re supposed to be feeling better now. Funny though…as much as you feel like stopping, throwing in the towel, strangling the runner in the stupid pink shorts ahead of you- you don’t. You continue, with one foot in front of the other, because you know that this is the only way you are going to reach your goal. You are going to make it to at least mile 19, if it kills you.
So, even though you were quite sure many times it was indeed going to kill you…. you made it to 19. Made it, and knew that you were close to the golden twenties. Your problems are still there, yet you have called upon the backups as needed, and something inside you lets you know you’ll be okay. Roughed up and tired… yet okay.
And then… the long awaited mile 20. At this point you remember many things- one of which is someone saying that a marathon was 20 miles, and a 10 K. You realize you now that a 10K is nothing to sneeze at, and you decide that now the only way you can continue is to take it painstaking mile by mile, like others before you have done. Step step step step. Each step hurts, yet each one is getting you there- you know this.
They say things have to get worse before they get better… and by golly, a marathon might just have been the birthplace of this statement. At 21 and 22 you find yourself praying for a sniper, natural disaster, or any other show-stopper that could put you out of your misery. Similarly, in life… the problems we face smack us flat down on our faces at one point, and it is only when we are at our lowest point do we realize our strength, our potential.
23 is a blur. There is really nothing more to be said about this point. It is neither the ultimate pain experience or the turn around you have been waiting for. In fact, when looking back on 23, you will question how and why you didn’t crawl to the side of the road and call it a day. The trek from 23 to 24 also is a mystery.
At 24… your problems are still there, yet they are dissipating because you know things could not possibly get worse than they have been. In fact, with the end in sight- or sort of- you begin to realize that you can make it. This fills you with such pride and joy that your stride kicks in and you begin to kick it. Kick it, as much as one can after 24 miles.
25 is the point where the sweetness of victory can be felt, yet the pain of reality still remains in your bones. You are SO CLOSE that really all you can do is smile through your pain, and try to contain your emotions. But, this is impossible… a mixture of pride, wonder, joy, and absolute amazement of your accomplishments hits you at this point. If one could ever run/function solely on adrenaline, by God you are doing it now.
26.0 ALMOST THERE. Now, when people say you are almost there… you not only don’t want to strangle them, you also believe them. You realize there were dark times when people told you you’d make it and that you were close to finishing. But, up until this point, you really didn’t piece it together that you could get there. This… sends you into overdrive and you kick it to the finish.
26.2 This hasn’t been just about running, you realize. You have challenged every bone, muscle, brain cell, and ounce of your soul in order to get to this finish line. The emotions that carried you through were as diverse as the runners you met along the way. As the medal is placed over your head, you could not be more proud, or downright impressed that you have made it. You are one tough cookie.
In every marathon I’ve run, there have been moments where I didn’t think I could make it. Yet, they were quickly followed by thoughts of wanting to show the world, namely myself, what I was made of. So I continued on, trusting that I had what it took to get to the finish line. It wasn’t always pretty, but the more I’ve run, the more I’ve realized that “making it” isn’t meant to always be pretty or easy. In fact, it is rarely pretty. Usually, it requires one to call upon every bit of strength and stamina that can be mustered up.
This… is called life.
Life is a series of marathons, and the more we train, the more we see that we have everything we need inside of us to help us rise above the many walls we hit along the way.