So you want to race a marathon…
You’ve declared your intent to test yourself over 26.2.
Maybe you’ve even run one before. Possibly many.
It doesn’t matter.
Sure experience helps — it may increase your chance of “success.” Or not.
The marathon is too far and too fickle to be tamed by your intentions.
The truth is: the marathon will take from you everything you brought, and more.
That’s its guarantee. And that’s why we love it.
Our age of convenience: On Demand everything, an app for it all. More, more at every touch and scroll. Marathoning is notable for its capacity to strip away this surplus, reveal our ability to prepare and celebrate our capacity to execute.
But it’s not about covering 26.2 miles.
The length is arbitrary — the distance between two Greek towns was fortuitous — nearly far enough to break us. Almost.
20 miles would be simple — demanding just the amount of energy we carry within us naturally.
30+ miles might offer a justification to slow — a prudent distance to employ caution.
But 26.2 — far enough to test, short enough to tempt.
But simply running is not racing.
Racing is testing — It’s submitting yourself to a task, unsure of the outcome, for the thrill of discovering the answer to the question,
“Can I handle this much for that long?”
Many runners want to be a “Marathoner”
But wanting to have run a marathon isn’t the same as being prepared to race.
The point isn’t to have a nice PR.
They may want to slyly mention their sweet number to friends and foes. To act as though they’re worth more because they once stopped a clock at a time that was less.
Those runners are focused on the finish.
But we don’t play games for the final whistle. Don’t read books for the epilogue. The finish isn’t the affair.
The point is the work; the commitment to transform.
There’s meaning in picking a date on a calendar, one that feels both forever away and also too soon.
It’s a commitment to push on your limitations again and again and again, until you’ve gone further, faster, than you ever thought possible.
Training isn’t a guarantee
The marathon demands that you find time you don’t have to expend more energy than you can muster. And your mileage goals? They’re make believe. You may be able to do more than you ever dreamed or much less than you hoped.
“Most of marathon training is being ridiculously tired and wanting to fall asleep in your soup.” — Des Linden
You don’t deserve a smooth build up — a mileage curve tracking upwards like a plane softly ascending to the sky. Training reveals both our strength and our frailty.
There will be bumps, there will be turbulence.
Regardless of fitness or forethought — you may fade. You’ll pass through charming weekend mornings in a haze of depletion.
And that’s the point.
Embrace this descent into dizziness. Gain comfort in the uneasy territory beyond your control. These are the moments you’ll need for later, when you try to race beyond what seems possible.
Completion of a training block, regardless of errors or hiccups, is its own feat worth marveling for a moment.
Many won’t make it to the start — having broken before the gun. If you’re here to race, you’re fortunate.
Race Day doesn’t owe you anything
Racing a marathon is a tale with many chapters. Long enough for highs, and lows, and highs again.
It’s often too hot or too cold, too windy or too wet. It may be unseasonably one thing or another. When seeking excuses, if you’re lucky, it’ll be so bad, so searing or torrential, that the day will go down in running lore: Chicago ’07, Boston ’18. Excuses that speak for themselves.
But most likely it won’t. Your day will probably be just another day, with issues for you to manage like any other.
Welcome to the unraveling
The culmination of a marathon is fast paced protracted distress.
If done correctly you’ll arrive at the final miles barely able to face the harsh task that you’ve assigned yourself.
But there is beauty in your breakdown.
The feeling that something is terribly wrong? It means you’re doing it right. This is your moment of full extension. Pushing this hard for this long is what makes marathoning memorable. These intense solo efforts bind us together.
The sport is self-imposed suffering. Seeking discomfort to illuminate our humanity.
“Stay with the pain, don’t shut this out! STOP IT. THIS is your pain. THIS is you burning hand, it’s RIGHT here. This is the greatest moment of your life man, and you’re off somewhere missing it!” — Brad Pitt, Fight Club
Even the Finish doesn’t owe you anything
Why do we do this?
To feel something. To move ourselves, to ensure that we don’t get stuck.
And most of all, we do this to be a part of something.
To insert our individual effort into a sea of human energy and force out the other side, hopeful that somehow we’ll be different. Changed in some way.
The point is the inconvenience. The delay without the guarantee of gratification. It’s structuring your weeks, months and years around something beyond daily life.
Racing 26.2 miles will break you. And that’s the point. To see where you stand when you are exposed.
This is you today.
And just like that, it’s over.
Turns out it wasn’t the distance, or the time. The two were simply tools you used to find something in yourself.
On the Richter scale of life there may not be many quakes as large as weddings, births or deaths, but we endeavor to feel something so indelibly that it won’t wash away as the waves of time crash against our memory.
Maybe that’s why we cry at marathon finish lines. Not for good or for bad, but for the honesty of the moment as we stand on that day.
The marathon doesn’t owe you anything, which makes it the perfect vessel in which to pour your everything.