Life as a Marathon

ScanYou wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but I ran my first marathon in 1983.   That would make me 39 years old.   Fred, a running friend at work who ran marathons and ultra marathons convinced me to run the annual Long Beach Marathon, known as a good beginner’s marathon.   That meant it was held in March along the ocean, so the weather was usually cool and the scenery was there to distract you from your pain.   It had a good turn out of spectators to encourage you and few hills to wear you down.   I trained Marathon Meta2seriously and had run 23 miles by the time race day came.  Fred and I started out together but about 10 miles in, he started to feel sick, so he told me to go ahead without him.   I was feeling good, drinking water at every station and chatting with other runners.   I was on about a seven and a half minute per mile pace.  At sixteen miles, I figured I had this made, so I picked up the pace.  Unfortunately, I also stopped drinking water.

By 20 miles (the home of the legendary wall), I was cramping badly.   I’d walk until the cramps subsided then jog until they hit again.  I began drinking water again but the damage was done … the periods of jogging became shorter and shorter.  In the last few miles, where the running lane runs along busy Ocean Avenue separated from the traffic by highway cones, I had a peculiar thought that I couldn’t let go of.  If I just step outside Marathon Meta1the cones and let one of the cars clip my leg, I won’t have to finish the race.  Fortunately I made it to Shoreline Boulevard where there was no traffic without indulging my fantasy.  I would finish the race with a final burst of willpower, collapsing with a full body cramp into the arms of a race volunteer.  Forty-five minutes in the medical tent later, I was meeting my wife and kids, wearing my first marathon medal proudly around my neck.

As I push myself into my mid seventies, life often feels like the last miles of a marathon.  Some mornings, my knees (perhaps punishing me for the miles and miles of running I subjected them to) make my trip downstairs for breakfast a painful one.  Sometimes, stiffness in my aging back sends pain down the back of my legs until I stretch and apply some heat.   Around me, friends and family are navigating their own finishing miles, some in better shape than I am, others enduring illness or injuries.  For some, the marathon is over.  Sometimes, I look back to that moment when I considered letting a car hit me so I wouldn’t have to finish.  No, not because I see it as a solution to being in my seventies but because it helps me recall my Marathon Metaphor for life.   In those painful moments, I forgot that I had chosen to run the marathon, that I could stop any time I wanted to.  The discomfort blinded me to the fun I’d had in the first 20 miles, an experience that would bring me back to the 26.2 miles 12 more times, including a 3:34 at Long Beach, my best time ever.  Stopping would have deprived me of the feeling of joy and accomplishment that I found in finishing races.

In one of his books, Rabbi David Rubin said that God is unknowable, that everything we think we know about God is just a metaphor that helps us understand Him just a bit (yes, I paraphrase).   I like to think that we chose in the unremembered past to experience this life and that at the end, looking back from wherever we end up, we will feel joy and fulfillment for having finished the last miles with integrity.  I can even imagine, if offered, I’d try again.   I’d probably like to have a few certain someones by my side but who knows if and how that works.   But the Marathon Metaphor helps me (as my friend Barry says) Keep Moving.  Now, excuse me while I get back to giving these finishing miles my best.

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One Comment on “Life as a Marathon”

  1. barrythewiz Says:

    You know I loved this one. And for your other readers, OlderEyes trained me for my one and only marathon – of course, the Long Beach.


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