Lesson #1 Life is a Marathon, not a sprint

Lesson #1 – Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

A marathon by its nature is an endurance race that tests and tries the body, eventually taking it beyond its breaking point. Once Glycogen stores are depleted, and electrolytes are burned up, and any stored proteins that the body possesses are consumed, in order to continue, the body converts any sugars that remain into lactic acid, which now residing in the muscles causes cramps, and charlie horses, and excruciating pain.  And from there your body begins to consume and cannibalize muscle, fat, and anything else it can feed on to survive. Unfortunately, a marathon isn’t over until you reach a distance of 26 miles 385 yards, so you don’t have the luxury of stopping.

Who could forget the1984 Los Angeles Olympics when Gabriela Andersen-Schiessgabrielle21 suffering from Heat Prostration stumbled into the stadium to cover the last 400 meters of a 26.2-mile race.  She limped and lurched around the track, holding her head and alternately stopping and restarting as the crowd groaned.  Her left arm flailing at her side, her right leg unbending at the knee, she nevertheless waved off medical assistance, which would have meant her immediate disqualification.  Finally, after navigating the final 400 meters in an agonizing 5 minutes 44 seconds, Andersen-Scheiss fell into the waiting arms of three medical staffers as she reached the finish line in 37th place, 24 minutes behind winner Joan Benoit.

When you finally cross the finish line, your body is -for lack of a better word- broken. It doesn’t appear to matter what your level of conditioning. At the end of the run, you are broke, spent, wasted.  I suppose you could say that your body could file bankruptcy, because there is nothing left in the bank but a big deficit, because you withdrew more than you could ever deposit. From about mile 20 (officially referred to as “The Wall” as in “I hit the WALL”), the only thing that draws you toward the finish line is the residual effects of months of long training runs, the confidence gained as a result of that training which says that in spite of what your body has been telling you for the last several miles you can do it, and then ultimately all of the shear strength of will that you muster up from somewhere deep inside. Even elite Marathoners are broken and rarely will even go for more than a walk to the car for at least a week after a race, while the body heals itself. Remember the Greek Soldier who ran the approximately 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been miraculously defeated in the Battle of Marathon?  What nobody wants to talk about is that a few minutes after delivering the message, he dropped dead.  And this is what they named the race after – in honor of a guy who finished… but died?  They didn’t even name the race after him, but rather the place where he began his epic run.  His name now pretty much forgotten.  After my first Marathon, I would have named it a “Steve” if I could have.  Sounds good to me.  “Hey, I just ran a Steve today”.  And my friends would look on with awe.  “A Steve!” they would say. “I didn’t know he had it in him. I could never run a  Steve.  What is a Steve anyway?”   And I would answer while flashing my Steve Medal, “26 miles 385 yards.”  (I know you’re scratching your head about what his name was.  It was Pheidippides.  Running a Steve sounds so much better than running a Pheidippides, don’t you think?)  But I digress.

Having said all that, after the hundreds and hundreds of miles and of running, the cross training, and the long weekend runs, you  build your capacity for endurance.  All of which trains your muscles, and perhaps more importantly, trains your mind to believe that the end is obtainable.  If you have the right equipment, and have made the sacrifices necessary and learn to manage your pace, and your stride, and your fluids, and your fuels properly along the way, success is a given and the finish line is a footnote to what you have accomplished.  Ultimately, if the preparation for and management of the race is adequate, the end is assured (That is a positive outcome is assured… not like the first Marathon runner).

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On October 5th, 2007 I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first. Out of approximately 45,000 entrants, nearly 10,000 didn’t start as a result of the weather, fear, or various other reasons. But more startling, another 10,000 (for a total of nearly 20,000 people) did not finish the race they trained for months to run. The weather conditions made for a brutal day. Continue reading

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