(Note: I began writing this a few days after the event, but after 5 drafts I haven’t been pleased with the result. So I decided to just be brief -haha, for me- and make my basic point. Please share your stories of what running a marathon is really all about for you in the comments.)
Marathons and marathon runners often get a bad rap. Some of the negative reputation surrounding marathon’s and endurance athletes is the same as what draws some people to the sport; it is an “individual” as opposed to “team” sport, training is often done in solitude, and to make improvements, sometimes even small ones, hours and hours of training are required, which means training can have a ripple effect on the athlete’s entire life. These things give marathoners a reputation for being selfish, self-centered, and self-interested.
I can actually agree or at least understand, some of the complaints surrounding very large half marathon and marathon events, especially with there being one or more going on it seems every weekend in or near major cities nationwide. Streets are shut down, public parks, paths, and trails get monopolized, there’s sometimes a lot of clean up needed, some are franchise and commercial events so not necessarily giving much back to the community of a charity organization, and so on.
However, if you are reading this and aren’t a runner, or don’t live with one, or if you are a runner and you haven’t thought about what running means to you and your life, let me tell you something, you can’t pour your heart and energy into training for and running marathon’s without help and support from a whole lot of people. My new running friend, and teammate, Declan, who just made his marathon debut (in 3:17!) articulates some of what I mean in a blog post here.
Until about a year and a half ago, I trained alone, travelled to races alone, raced alone, and then came home and outside of my parents didn’t really talk about running with anyone. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I started developing friendships with runners, I immediately started to get faster, and fell more in love with running.
On April 15, 2013 and the month that followed many non-runners became familiar with a quote from a marathon legend, Kathrine Switzer, “If you are losing faith in the human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
It’s a phrase that can be taken as a reference to the perseverance and dedication shown by those running toward their individual goals, it can be illustrated by the hours and hours of time, service, and encouragement given by spectators, and it can be seen in acts of friendship, sportsmanship, teamwork, joy and loyalty shown by competitors.
So rather than detail my own race experience, I’d like to share a few examples of what running really means from the Chicago Marathon 2013. It’s easy to find 100 samples of “inspiration porn” within any marathon event. I’m not trying to minimize the efforts of the amazing people who are fundraising for heart-breaking causes, and the people who preserve through physical, emotional, and situational hurdles most of us can barely fathom, but only trying to say that every marathoner who pours their heart into this sport is an inspiration.
Every single mile is meaningful, and every challenge is meaningful.
A marathon is about finding and embracing joy even when things fall apart. Scott Laumann and Evan Rosendahl are fellow Chicagoans who run with The Track and Trough Athletic Union. Following how these guys train and race, and the matter of fact, yet focused way they approach running, totally helps me to stay focused on long-term goals, and I aspire to race with their sportsmanship and class. Both of these men are capable (and have) run marathons firmly in the mid-2 hours range, and when their races fell apart at Chicago they spent the final miles of the race having fun and hanging on to finish with each other.
A marathon is about showing someone that you believe in them even when they have stopped believing in themselves. My friend Lynton (as seen above), jumped in just before mile 20 wearing an injured friend’s bib (thanks Ogi!), I was really struggling, and indeed, evidently, not making much sense during that final 10k. But Lynton stayed right with me, pulling me along, and calling me out on my bullshit.
What does running mean to me? It’s something that makes me feel good, but it also make me feel helpless sometimes, I am compelled to do it. Running means relief and solace, when I’m running there is nothing else. For me, it is the very definition of mindfulness. It means perseverance, and it means love. I’ve never had such good friends and known such amazing people, as the runners I know.