I recently ran my fifteenth marathon, and with the experience came the now-familiar set of questions:
In the shuttle on my way to the start: Wait, now why did I sign up to do this, again?
In the middle miles, when pain and exhaustion are setting
in: How could I forget what this feels
like? What am I doing out here?
And after I’ve had a post-race beer, a warm shower, and a
couple of Advil: Which one should I do
All good questions. With answers that I apparently keep
forgetting. Which I think may kind of be the point.
Everyone needs opportunities to find out - or be reminded of - what they’re made
of, and my recent marathon was one such opportunity.
I’m blessed with what I consider to be a remarkably happy and healthy life, and
believe that it’s this position of relative privilege that draws me – and many
people like me – to the marathon. I have my share of your everyday struggles, but
life is not hard for me in the ways that it is for so many. I don’t wonder
where my next meal will come from. I don’t live in chronic pain. My family is
safe. I believe that struggle is essential to the human experience, and that
those of us who don’t need to struggle to survive necessarily create ways to
At times we do this in unconscious ways, inviting drama and
chaos into areas of our lives where it need not be. At times we do this in
unhealthy and unproductive ways, through self-sabotage at work, or the
development of habits that we then need to learn how to break. And at times we
do this in marvelous, inspiring ways. Scientists and engineers striving for the
next great innovation. Diplomats reaching for peace. Athletes pushing the
boundaries of what we think is humanly possible. Middle-aged schlubs pounding
out the long miles every weekend, in pursuit of their next big personal
Am I counting recreational athletes like myself among the scientists, engineers,
diplomats, and elite athletes that are out there changing the world? Sort of, yes. Do I think that
my completion of a marathon compares to a scientist developing the cure for Alzheimer’s
disease? Of course not. But I do think that what runners are out there doing
every day matters, and that the ways that non-runners find to stretch and challenge themselves matter. I think this intrinsic need for struggle is why sport exists
in every human society, why games and “play” are important. We’re all out there
day after day, living our struggle in our own personal ways, inching closer
toward self-realization with every little victory. Every time I make it through
a difficult day of work, mend a broken relationship with someone I care about,
or knock out a tempo run that I didn’t think I could do, I contribute something
to the world, and I’m a better person for that struggle.