42.2 Kilometers of Life (Thoughts From a Marathon)
Founder of None to Run
November 22, 2023
I am a runner.
I have been running regularly for twenty years. Sometimes I run races, but mostly I run because I like the way it makes me feel.
A couple of days ago, I ran a marathon in Toronto, Ontario. It was my second marathon.
42.2 kilometers (I am Canadian, eh), the distance of a marathon, is both historical and magical. And, I don’t care who you are, it’s a long bloody way to run.
There are many components that go into running a marathon. For me, I trained for this race for four months. I ran 4-5 times per week through the depths of a cold Canadian winter. Snow, ice, bone-chilling temperatures, hail, rain … you name it.
Heck, I’ll be the first to tell you, training for a marathon is much harder than running a marathon. Race day is a mere celebration of the hard work you’ve put in training for the big day. And it sure feels amazing when you cross the finish.
That said, my favourite part of running a marathon is not the training or the finishing the race.
The beauty lies in your thoughts and experiences between the start and the finish.
Anticipation and Excitement
The start of a marathon is a time of new beginnings and anticipation.
This is also a time when you run through the last four months of training in your mind and prepare for the start.
Am I ready?
Is that missed workout going to come back to haunt me?
I wonder how much that guy over there trained?
Is my goal time attainable?
Should I go to the bathroom one more time before the start?
I paced back and forth in front of the start line trying to stay warm and loose. Butterflies danced in my stomach with the anticipation of the physical and mental battle ahead.
Shit, what were my split times supposed to be? My coach had given me some halfway and 30 km times to use as a guide on pacing for my goal time of four hours. I meant to write them on my hand, but forgot.
Mostly though, I am excited to get going. Fired up to go for a long run with hundreds of other runners.
I start running.
As I trotted under the “Start” banner, my journey began.
Similar to the nerves of starting a speech in front of a group and the tendency to speak too quickly - the same goes for running a marathon.
Not controlling nervous energy and going out too quickly can destroy your game-plan before you've really started. But once I was 3 kilometers into the race, I settled into my pace.
The anxiety started to melt away.
I keep running.
Today is a beautiful day. The sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky.
I feel amazing running through the 10 km mark.
Thoughts of gratitude rush through my head.
I feel healthy, strong and light on my feet. The running seems effortless.
My mind wanders while I run through one of Toronto’s most beautiful neighborhoods.
I feel ever so grateful for my beautiful wife and amazing son. They will be waiting for me at the 31 km mark.
I am fortunate to have family and friends that love and support me - even my crazy running habits.
I am happy.
Nothing else seems to matter right now.
I keep running.
My marathon progresses.
The good times are coming to end.
I know it and my body is starting to tell me so.
My watch tells me I am right where I should be. I am actually ahead of the half-way split my coach recommended.
I should be pleased - half a marathon complete (in good time) with one more half to go.
I start feeling down.
This happened the first time I ran a marathon. I knew the drill - feel great for 20-30 kilometers and then get beaten and defeated for the remainder of the race. I’d miss my goal time and think, oh well … I trained hard and finishing is more than most could do.
Screw that. I asked myself a simple question.
“Mark, what are you going to do?”
I keep running.
My wife, son, brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me at the 31 kilometer mark.
I knew that if I sustained my current pace until I saw my family, I would have a real shot at breaking four hours.
And was it ever nice to see their faces and hear them cheer my name.
Just the lift I needed and at the perfect time.
I ran for myself and I ran for them.
I keep running.
If you have ever run a marathon before, you know that there are two halves to running 42.2 kilometers. The first 30 kilometers make up the first and the final 12.2 kilometers make up the second.
I like to call the second half the “pain cave”.
The “pain cave” is a dark and lonely place. It’s somewhere I don’t want to stay long. It’s a time when your body is saying “stop”.
“Stop now you idiot.”
Sure my pace slowed down these last few kilometers, but I decided to embrace the pain this time. Instead of running away from the pain, I ran towards it.
I felt it and acknowledged it. Pain was my running partner that would accompany me to the finish. Nothing more, nothing less.
I keep running.
I made it to the finish.
I beat my previous marathon time by forty minutes.
I was glad to be done. The bottoms of my feet ached, my hips were seizing up and if asked to sit down, I may not have been able to get back up.
But who cares?
Running a marathon is about what happened inside me for the past 42.2 kilometers.
On the 5th day of May, 2013 there were ups and there were downs. I felt amazing at times and terrible at others.
Some would say I ran a marathon. I would say I experienced life.
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