49,466 people. That’s how many people finished the 2015 NYC Marathon. “Finished” is arbitrary in this case, because there were still runners on the course. Thanks to the New York Times, I found out that official marathon times end at 7:30pm. After that, times are no longer recorded.
At 8 hours and 28 minutes, Sala Cyril was the last finisher to record a time. If there’s a person who’s name we should celebrate in this discussion of the Marathon machine, it’s Sala Cyril. She is our Robert Paulson.
Last year, I wrote a potentially offensive article that claimed, “Running A Marathon Is Not Inspiring.” The aggressive title rustled quite a few jimmies, and I followed through with a sharp take on the cult of cardio as I see it. A year later I have some updated thoughts, and I’d love to take this moment to clarify them. I’ll be honest; not very much has changed. Here’s the simple reality:
Running a marathon is often touted as the epitome of health or fitness success, and emotionally sold as a “bucket list” item that everyone should do. It does not have to be.
When the training for, participation in, or competition of a Marathon is sold as the panacea for health and fitness, I get mad. Real mad. To be fair, that happens when anything is pitched as a one-size-fits-all approach. Any of the beautifully well-intentioned training tools in fitness today belong in the greater category of “flawed systems.” Kettlebells, cycling, yoga, or barbell training can all be great as part of a complete program, but nothing is a perfect system. We have an obligation to let them not be the complete system.
While running is included in the list of flawed modalities, that doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. It just means that it’s not a mandatory part of how we exercise, or what determines our success. This is where things can tricky, because often completing monumental physical task like running a marathon feels MASSIVELY successful. I mean, I’ve never run ones, who the hell am I to tell you it’s not impressive?
It’s taken me a year, but I realized something recently after learning a bit more about emotional intelligence, reflecting on what I’ve been reading, and appreciating my own training. Again I turn to the wise words of Coach Stevo from his past post, Integrity in the New Year:
People who sign up for marathons rarely want to run a marathon. Marathons suck. They hurt and yet are so easy that anyone can sign up for one. I crossed the finish line of my first marathon with a 65 year old woman who had run another marathon the previous week. People don’t want to run a marathon, they want to be the kind of person who ran a marathon. And most people don’t want to have a six pack, they want to be the kind of person who they think has a six pack.
To think that just like that, it clicked. It’s that second to last sentence to be exact. “People don’t want to run a marathon, they want to be the kind of person who ran a marathon.” That one really sticks with me. It sticks with me since it so closely ties into my recent experiences with preparing for my second enduro mountain bike race. The experience has proven to be a great lens of clarity.
So far in 2015, I’ve tracked 530 miles of bike rides. Some of it has been downhill, some of it has been cross country, some of it has been lap after lap in the pump track. Overall, it’s all been for the single goal of feeling more comfortable on my bike for Mountain Creek’s enduro race. All things considered, I was as successful as I wanted to be to reach that goal. It was the process that I was the most proud of it.
I get it now. It’s about the process.
One of the reasons we become so proud of our participation in an event is the sense of accomplishment that comes with preparing for the event. It’s the weeks, months, or even years of preparation that lead us to that one singular moment, a precious example of who we become during the preparation process. In that, we can realize that it’s not what we’ve done, but it’s who we’ve become in the process.
Often, the activity we own begins to own us. We are powerlifters, dancers, soccer players, fighters. We cease to be people who run, and we become runners. It is that deep personal identity that I’d love us to be aware of. You are not your fitness activity. You are not your fucking khakis.
Rather than the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world, we are just people, all equals and all searching for that activity that makes us come alive, while bringing us towards a better version of ourself. While the NYC marathon is still fresh in our minds and hearts, I believe we can separate the physical task of counting the miles, and celebrate the immense emotional victory of practicing a better version of ourselves.
Is it about actually running 26.2 miles? Without the experience, I can’t fairly say. I can say that for my training experience, it wasn’t about preparing for a personal record, or about beating someone I’ve never met before. It was about committing to myself that I would practice, that I would grow, and that I would embrace being uncomfortable in the process. It’s so that as the season ends I can cruise down the mountain, slow and satisfied, and find inspiration in the preparation, not in the competition.