Why The Marathon?
This is an interesting question, isn’t it? It is also a personal question. Why is it the marathon for me versus why is the marathon for you? You may get completely different answers. For someone like Ryan Hall or Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia, is it most likely because you are one of the best in the world, and who wouldn’t want to be one of the best in the world at something? There are other answers like my friends Mike & Chaz may come up with, who run the marathon because locally they are very good at it and can break 3 hours. I should ask them this question sometime. Then there is someone like me.
I have been running competitively ever since the 6th grade. I even still have my first ever running awards from the 6th grade Olympics, a 1st and a 2nd. At that time, I knew I was a pretty good runner. By High School, I was still a good Middle Distance runner. I ran the quarter and the half mile in High School and was even Conference and Regional Champion in the half my senior year. I was able to run the 800 in 2 flat. I wasn’t all that great in Cross Country though. I was varsity but no where near the front of the races. I think I ran the 5K race at a best of 18:30 or so.
I liked running track so much, I decided to run at college at UW-Oshkosh. I was an average DIII runner in the 800. I was able to take my time down to 1:56 but again not that fast at longer races. I did run a 5K on the track in 16:56 once but no where near since.
Now, many years later, I find myself running marathons. Why? Based on what I can still run shorted races at, I should stick with them. I looked at some comparison websites where you can enter a time for one race and it will predict your time for a different race. I went to 2 different sites and here is what they think I could run a marathon in. Based on how fast I can run a mile right now (5:30), I should be able to run a marathon in 3:09:45 or 2:55:27 (quite a difference between calculations, don’t you think?). I can run a 5K now in about 20:00 so I should be able to run a marathon in 3:22:03 or 3:11:49 based off that. I also plugged in what I can run a half marathon in (1:41:45) and I get times of 3:35:45 and 3:32:08.
Do you sense a trend there? The longer the race, the worse a time I get based off other races. This is not news to me. Remember in High School I was really good at a half mile but not nearly as good at a 5K. So why don’t I run the shorter races like 5Ks. Well, I still do, though not as much recently as before. I will still even place in my age group now and then. I place much higher in a local 5K than in a marathon. I will usually place in the top 10% of a local 5K but depending on the marathon, I am a mid-packer. Usually near the 50% mark. Please don’t take this as I don’t like to be a mid-packer or that mid-pack marathoners don’t deserve my admiration. Quite the opposite. I have always told everyone that ANYONE who finishes a marathon is awesome in my book no matter what the time. Running mid pack is also an entirely different type of race atmosphere than up front. (I have been on a relay team that ran 2:43 before so I have run up front a few times). I will write more about those differences another time.
So again I ask myself, “Why the Marathon?” There is just something about the marathon that is such a great challenge, a great accomplishment, an awesome journey. No 5K or 10K has the same characteristics of a marathon. I do tell many people who ask me that they could complete a marathon as well. I believe anyone (besides those with certain physical limitations) can complete a marathon. You might not be fast, but you can complete one. You can say the same about a 5K, but most people can complete a 5K without any training. This is virtually impossible with the marathon. This is where the journey comes.
Most of us who have completed a marathon know that the race does not begin at the starting line nor does it end at the finish line. The race begins many months earlier, this is where the journey begins, training. We get up at god awful hours of the morning to train on long runs. We run in great weather as well as crappy weather. We spend 2, 3 or 4 hours at a time on the roads sometimes with no one but our thoughts keeping us company. We take our bodies to the limit with the miles we put in. We know that it is inevitable but we still get injured and sore and know that this is part of the process. For most of us, we are 90% through the journey and haven’t even reached the starting line yet.
Then comes the actual race. To some it truly is a race against others and to some it is a race against time. And for others, it is a race against the finish line. I really do not race against others in a marathon ever. Usually I race against time and sometimes the finish line (the second half of the Heart of Texas Challenge comes to mind). Whatever your ‘race’, we are all there together.
Runners are a strange breed. We will pay up to and over $100 to torture our bodies for 3, 4, 5 or more hours, feel pain for many days, and be sometimes in really crappy weather for what? To do the Marathon! We wear our medals for 1 day and then they either lay in a box or maybe get hung on the wall. They get lost as well, but you never lose the marathon. Once you accomplish a marathon, you always have that and no one can take it away. This is why I feel the journey does not end at the finish line. Not many people complete marathons. I did say before that almost everyone ‘could’ complete a marathon, but so few of us “do” complete a marathon. The dedication needed to run a marathon is lost on so many, even those who are still runners. That is one reason I feel the half marathon is so popular. It is a great race to run and quite fun, but it is not the marathon. As my friend Chaz says, the marathon is an entirely different monster compared to a half.
Sometimes I love running with the mid pack runners. This is where meet the majority of first time marathoners are. And people chat along the way often. I love chatting with the first timers and giving that little bit of encouragement they may need. Usually I don’t see them after I pull ahead or they run ahead of me but I always wonder what they are exactly feeling as they cross the finish line. I tell them often that there is no other feeling like crossing the finish line of your first marathon. I still remember mine. I bet some of you remember yours as well. It is a great and awesome feeling of total accomplishment. I still feel it when I finish other marathons but not to the level of the first one. It is always a good feeling for me, even finish #16 a mere 3 weeks ago.
I have never dropped out of a marathon, not many runners do. My philosophy is that once you cross the start line you are in it until the finish barring major injury. I even saw a shirt at a race expo that said “Death before DNF.” As bad as I have felt often after 20 miles, I never thought I would not finish. It would just take longer and be slower this time. While I don’t like it at the time, I get over it.
So again, Why the Marathon? If you ask 100 different marathoners, you might get 100 different answers. But we are all the same in the end. We are all marathoners and no one will take that away!