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-Schiess 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).
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. 88 degrees (a record high) and extreme high humidity made it impossible to cool your core temperature down. More than 300 were sent to the hospital and hundreds more were treated in medical tents located throughout the course.
This leaves many to ask how someone can be crazy enough to run a Marathon. And therein lies the wonder of of it all. A Marathon is sort of the “Holy Grail” of running for many runners. Causing all who run to make special accommodations and sacrifices of time, money, diet, and creature comforts to do this one special thing and join the less than 1/10 of 1% who will ever run a Marathon in their lifetime. And yet, even as I say that, we find a special kind of insanity found in a very few runners who train, live, and run “Ultra-Marathons” (anything over 26 miles, but often as much as 100 miles). This special breed has learned to shut off pain receptors so they can push to new levels of body destruction. But I regress, so let me get back to my analogy.
As with endurance running, life requires the same thing from us that a marathon does; to endure to the end, without quitting at any point before the finish line, and without cutting corners. And while there always seems to be plenty of obstacles to our progress, these challenges can either block our path or ultimately act as stepping stones to our success. We must therefore plan, and then work with the end result (the goal) in mind.
It is to that end that we start life’s race. First to have the goal of finishing that race, and then we plan and execute with that goal ever on the top of our minds, adapting as necessary, and fighting through the challenges, obstacles, temptations before us, and finally, to finish the race honorably. And, it is to that end that I pray for the vision, and focus, and strength to endure, for myself and for each member of my Family.
Good luck and may God bless you in your Marathon of life! And thanks for reading.