Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Marathon Is More Than A Race

The previous post recapping my marathon experience was really written to be shared with the running club - everybody shares their marathon story. I then posted it here as well. I do feel the blog is deserving of another post as well, not running club specific. Here it is:

Running a marathon is an amazing experience. People regularly ask about the health aspects of running so far and  for so long. Personally, I doubt there is much gained health-wise by running such distances - the health gain is probably capped off at 10 or 15km runs. Anything beyond that has nothing to do with health and exercise. The marathon is not a form of exercise, but is an experience. An amazing experience.

Training for, and running, a marathon is an experience of self-awareness and self-fulfillment. The marathon is well beyond the capabilities of any normal human being. Yet, people push themselves and train for months to be able to run one. And despite all the training, all the speedwork, all the long runs, despite it all, everybody struggles during the marathon, especially during the last 10 or so kilometers. No matter how much you train, the marathon resists, and makes you earn your medal.

I trained for this marathon for 18 weeks. I really started earlier, running intensely in July and August to get into decent shape for marathon training which would start in September. My goal this year was to run the marathon barefoot (in Vibram FiveFinger barefoot running shoes), and it was a challenge. Different body parts would be sore, different way to run, different aches and pains and challenges. After the holidays in October I slowed my training down from 4 times a week to 2 times a week, with the occasional good week running three times.

That is not a recipe for success, but a marathon can be run like that. It was a good thing I did not really have a goal other than to finish the marathon successfully, having run it barefoot. I did not think in accomplishing a certain time and pace goal.

Despite it all, and perhaps because of the different running style (due to being barefoot), I was still running just a bit faster than in previous years. My expectations were that I would break the 4 hour mark, but I wasn't shooting for it.

Then you actually get to the marathon. At the marathon anything can happen. As I said, the marathon is an experience, and it is far more than a running event. The marathon is a test of your mettle. When you are out running for 3 to 4 hours, your mind plays tricks on you, trying to get you to stop. The marathon is the ultimate test of you being able to conquer your limitations, both physical and mental, and especially mental and succeeding to surpass your normal abilities.

I went out with my running partner and we got off to a fast start. The excitement, the running, the camaraderie - it is just an amazing feeling. You are out there struggling to keep your pace and you suddenly see a friend, a fellow runner, who calls out to you, maybe he even just waves because he doesnt have the energy to call out, and he hoots at you, and that gives you a boost. It keeps you going for a little bit more. Then you see another. We support each other because we know what we are each going through, what we are each struggling to accomplish.

The run was great for the first 32 kilometers. the last 10 kilometers are the toughest. they are harder than the first 32 combined. The last 10 km is really where you get tested. And no matter how well you trained, how hard you trained and how carefully you planned for your marathon, that last 10km will be the greatest of challenges.

At 33km I started slowing down, with a slight uphill. It was not big enough that it would have affected me on a normal run, but after running 32km, this was like climbing a mountain. Up, up and up, finally at the top and then you see you are still nowhere near the end.

At that point I think I need to take a break, maybe walk a little bit. Then you have to catch yourself and realize that your mind is playing tricks on you and you cannot let your mind win, nor can you let your body give out. You are stronger and you will win this battle.

So you break the rest of the run down to more manageable sections. Another 500meters, 1 more kilometer, 2 more laps around this or an out and back to the landmark run. And you keep plugging on. It is a struggle, but you are winning. It does not matter that you have slowed your pace down, because you are still going. That's what matters.

You have already succeeded, just by having completed 18 months of grueling training and not giving up in the middle as many do, not giving in to the aches and pains, not succumbing to the desire to sleep just a little bit longer and miss a run. Now you are succeeding again by running through the toughest part of the marathon.

35km, 36km. you are still struggling, but now you are getting back to seeing some high points as well. You know the end is near. You even know that if you continue running you will be able to finish and get over the pain quicker than if you would stop right then and walk the rest of the way. So you keep on plugging. I even start to speed up a bit again. Not much, but I do pick up my pace a bit.

39km, 40km, almost there. Suddenly you see everyone else around is also seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. You are nearly there. Still picking up some steam. It is tough, and painful, but you are back in your zone. Only 2km to go. 1km.

Then you see yourself approaching the finish line. 200 meters to go. You find relief, and you also find your last bits of energy reserves, energy you thought you had used up a long time ago, you find some courage, and you pick up your pace. You will finish strong, You will finish a winner. You have conquered the marathon. You have overcome your own limitations. You have come out victorious in the games of the mind.

And then you cross the finish line, with your arms up in the air, knowing you worked hard, you succeeded, you accomplished. And if you end up meeting or beating your intended pace and time, how much more so!

That is why, I think, everybody who completes the marathon gets a medal, and not just the top 3 runners like in other sports - because your race was not against the other 1000, 2000, 10000 or 40000 runners. Each person was racing against himself, his or her own limitations, his or her own capabilities. Anybody who finishes the marathon successfully, and it does not matter how much time it took to run, is a winner.

And that then carries over into your daily life and routine. You know you can do anything. You approach things differently, You know you can succeed where others would give up.

1 comment:

Risa said...

כל הכבוד רפי
I really mean it!