Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jerusalem Marathon 2011: Why Do We Do It? Why Run Marathons? Anybody Can

While running up to Mount Scopus during the Jerusalem Marathon, I was thinking to myself, wondering why we do this. Why do we put ourselves through this much pain? I dont have an answer, but I decided then that this would be it for me. I dont see a purpose in it. It is not healthy, and I no longer see the challenge in it. This was my third marathon, and probably the most difficult one I would ever run, no matter how many more I would ever run in, and I know I can do it. Even more so, I never hit the wall, I did not even train so hard, and while it was difficult, and this is due to the great training program we have in Bet Shemesh where even without following it completely you are well prepared, I was mostly fine throughout. I did not have to walk long stretches like other people. I ran 99.999% of the route. But I dont know what the reason is to do this. My feeling of accomplishment has gone down since the first marathon. That one was amazingly fulfilling, but since then, while each one is a challenge to overcome, the sense of fulfillment has not been the same.

climbing the entrance into the Old City
Another point is something I saw posted on Facebook last week in response to the news item of the 400 pound Sumo wrestler who completed the Los Angeles Marathon in 9 hours, asking what the big deal is that people get so excited about running a marathon - clearly anyone can do it. Old people do it, fat people do it, sick people do it, injured people do it, so whats the big challenge and big deal?

The question kind of bothered me and nagged at me. Right, whats the big deal? To me it does not matter if I run 10 minutes faster or slower - I am not a professional runner, and I am not making mroe or less money based on my finish time, and the difference is really insignificant. So what's the big deal for me to run a marathon, if anybody could?

I further wondered as I heard the cheers from people as I ran by. They were calling out all sorts of things, but the cheer most heard was probably "Kol HaKavod!", meaning, good for you, or kudos. I was wondering, as I was hearing things, what did I do so special to deserve that? I didnt save a life or anything like that - all I did was run for a crazy amount of time.

Of course you can answer that nobody has the right to ask the question until they have run it. there are tremendous challenges to overcome in preparing for, and running, a marathon, and until you do it, you cannot understand it. So many more people drop out of it due to the difficulty, than those that complete the training. Everybody who sets his mind to it, and I believe the mental aspect of the marathon and the training is far more difficult than the physical aspect, can do it, but there are tremendous difficulties to overcome.

But I have done it already. Why am I still doing it? What is the big deal if anybody, or almost anybody, can do it? What's the big deal if many people walk through it and can say just as well that they finished the marathon? Maybe finishing a marathon is not really such a big deal!? Just to see if I can do it 10 or 15 minutes faster? Who cares? What difference does it make to me or to the universe?

While running I thought about this. Talk about mind games. The craziness your head feels at kilometers 33-37, just makes you crazy.

The view from the entrance of the Old City
The truth is it does not make any difference. And there really is no reason to run a marathon, at least not more than one. However, saying anyone can do it, just because we see old people, fat people, injured people, do it, is demeaning and disrespectful. Yes, if you put your mind to it, you can do it too. Now let's see you put your mind to it and do it! The fact that old people, fat people, injured people do it, shows how great of an accomplishment it is, not how easy it is! Everybody has his own challenges he must overcome. In all aspects of life. One person is overweight, one person has bad knees, one has bad feet, one smokes, one has asthma, one lost a leg in an army accident, one has mental problems, one has family problems weighing him down, and some of us have multiple variations of combinations of problems. The fact that people overcome these challenges and do something that is so difficult, so challenging, so outside of a normal person's reach, that is a testament to the fact that each of these people is a champion.

Neither I, who finished at 4:36, nor my sister who finished at 6 hours and a bit, nor the old lady who finished 20 minutes later, nor the guy who finished at 3 hours, nor the sick fellow, nor the guy who had to crawl across the line or anybody else (except for the professionals) did this to win money or to save the world. We each did this as a way of defeating demons. We each have our own demons, our own challenges, and each person who completed the marathon, no matter what his or her final time was, for some even if they just went out there and tried and maybe did not even finish, is a champion for figuring out how to overcome those challenges, for pulling out the strength and inner determination, and succeeding. Anybody who does this, can do anything. It is a life-changing experience.

Now I can say I have no need to do this any longer. I am going to retire from long distance running. I see no purpose in doing this any more, for me. Maybe I will participate in shorter races, maybe not.

Then again, I already registered for the Tel Aviv Marathon that takes place in two weeks. Maybe I will retire after that.


Moshe said...

I echo many of the marathon spectators:

Kol Hakovod Rafi. You did it. In Yerushalayim no less. Mountains. Hills. Wow!!!

I do have a question though, since this is not your first marathon, how does it effect your overall health?
Let me explain: I am in my 40's. I began jogging last year on my treadmill.

The last few months, I average 17 km per week. I basically jog to keep my weight in check.

From a health perspective: what does a marathon accomplish for your health that a 10k or 5k does not.

Looking forward to hear from you

Rafi G. said...

I think that is up to debate. I have heard different opinions.

My personal opinion is there is no health benefit to running a marathon, and might even be harmful to an extent, if you run too many, too often. running a marathon once in a while shouldnt be a problem, like any unhealthy vice wont kill you if you just do it every so often rather than regularly.

I am not a doctor and dont know if what I am saying has any truth to it. it is just my opinion.

what the marathon does do is it creates a culture of running and health, which is good. And it gives you a goal to train for. Most people who run marathons, run it once in their lifetime, or even if they run it every year or two for a few years,. that is still not too much. There are some crazy people who run marathons every week, month, dozens a year, etc. That sounds like too much to me.

Pesach Sommer said...

Great post. I love the conclusion in particular. Asking a marathoner "What's next?" is like asking a mother who just delivered when she is having her next baby. I like the challenge of getting faster. I dream of BQing. Even if those are not your goals, you DO inspire people with what you do, me included. I wouldn't be so quick to give that up. Besides, if you do, how do you plan on slaying those demons?

Pesach Sommer said...

I have been thinking about this post for some time. I even shared with the talmidim in one of my shiurim. Would you say that a artist should stop paining after the point when the art comes more easily? It seems to me that there is a form of self expression in running, no different from composing music or painting. Even with the knowledge that i will never get much faster, I find the run to be worthwhile.

Rafi G. said...

good point. However, I think your response is more appropriate for someone who loves running for runnings sake, specifically long distance running, rather than for the person who took up running for a specific purpose, like for the challenge, for a certain exercise regimen, for weight loss, etc.

I still see the benefit to running, but not the long distance running. We'll see how I feel during and after the upcoming Tel Aviv Marathon.