So we are almost exactly halfway between the two big east coast marathons, Marine Corps Marathon (last weekend) and New York City (this coming weekend).
Just between the two little old-fashioned footraces, more than 78,000 of you will subject yourself to a level of physical, mental and emotional cruelty that, if not for the fact that you do so willingly, publicly and at great personal expense, would be expressly banned by the Geneva Convention.
And yet, as I was out on my little wimpy, happy 5-mile run today, I couldn’t help thinking about why the race, despite its torture, is so compelling.
So here goes, 10 Awful Things That I Love About Marathons.
10. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion
The pain and distress the race causes happens over the course of hours, scattered over the map of the city. Usually human carnage of this magnitude is horrifically centered in one heap, which is too monumental to grasp. Here we have the luxury of watching the pain and agony unfold slowly, as the happy faces of the first few miles morph into the strained grimaces of the final few.
9. Zombies take over a city
When zombies finally do appear in our streets and claim our nation, there will be a strange sense of deja vu for anyone who has witnessed a major city marathon. The stoned faraway looks and the staggering but indomitable pace of the streaming multitudes will be nearly identical.
8. We get to stare at you, in your underwear
Usually, when we stare at people who are so vulnerable and thinly clothed, we are considered impolite and potentially perverse. During a marathon, we are considered supportive.
7. We feel like you look
On many days, the hard knocks of life have us feeling beaten and beleaguered. But we can’t show that side of ourselves, or we will be pitied and coddled and possibly stripped of our responsibilities at work. So watching you cheers us up as we identify with your pain and acknowledge that maybe we can get through our own sh*t afterall, seeing how you keep going no matter how terrible you look. And you do.
6. There’s a finish line
You have a finish line to end your pain and signal your achievement. We are not so lucky as we struggle with the ups and downs of our lives. We just go to bed and try again tomorrow. But you remind us that struggle can have purpose if we let ourselves believe that what we are doing has some importance. We need you to keep going to give us hope.
5. Watching the clock
The worst part about running my first marathon was the incessant worry about whether I was going to hit my time goal. The clock doesn’t pause and doesn’t compromise. And yet that time lasts forever on your race history permanent record. The tyranny of that disciplines you to push yourself. We can sit idly by and see you have to be judged by the harsh measurement of the clock, while ours seemingly stands still. No one will judge us today like the clock will judge you.
4. It’s personal yet public
There will be 78,000 reasons and 78,000 stories and 78,000 inspirations behind the runners that will complete these marathons. Many will cry upon finishing and not (just) because their nipples are bleeding. Each person’s struggles and achievements and failures are intensely private, forged in the hours and hours of training and the singular dedication to preparing for this day. And yet, there it is. Right in front of our eyes. Every single step of those 26.2 miles will be publicly witnessed by thousands of people. We will know if you make it or not. We will know when you walk. We will know if you cramp, cry or crumble in a ball. That kind of transparency is the ultimate curbside reality TV.
3. You are all moving in one direction
Seldom in life do so many people simultaneously agree to move in the same direction for so long. If you randomly selected 78,000 people and put them in one place can you imagine any other scenario where they would virtually all end up in the same destination via the same route? I fear that the enjoyment of this coordinated and mutually beneficial movement makes us all socialists. We may be in Glenn Beck’s next book.
2. It’s like the world’s largest Stations of the Cross
With all due respect to people of all faiths, this Catholic boy can’t help thinking of the marathon as tracing some of the steps of Jesus as he was led to his crucifixion.
Your clothes (ie. extra sweats and garbage bag ponchos) are taken away. You may fall (or at least stumble). You may see your mom (even if only in a ecstatic vision accompanied by polka music). You will get help from strangers (who oddly know your name). Women will weep as you pass by (you will look that bad). You may fall again– and again. You will wipe your face (save that towel!). You will be offered water, and perhaps occasionally if they are out of Gatorade, hyssop on a reed. I only hope you have a more dignified finish line to mark the end of your day. Although come to think of it…
1. The first guy who ran it died after finishing
So for Pheidippides’ sake, you gotta kinda know it’s not a great idea. Sort of like the first guy who ate poison berries. And yet, you go on and somehow survive. In other words…
When life gives you poison berries, make a smoothie.
Drink up, marathoners. Congrats and good luck.