There may be 26.2 other reasons to run a marathon, but let me give you one compelling reason: the wall. Maybe you have heard of the wall, had inclinations of what it’s like to meet the wall, witnessed a runner run into the wall, but until you personally meet it, stare into its eyes and see its face, you have missed one of life’s great experiences. If you’re a runner, like to push your limits, then you need to make an appointment to meet the wall. I always seem to run into this nemesis where most runners meet it, a mile or two after the twentieth mile of a marathon. All the miles leading up to that point are filled with excitement, energy, anticipation, and adrenaline as the body pushes towards the finish line. But between the start and the finish stands an encounter never forgotten.
Standing at the starting line, I am alive and ready to run. I am alive and focused, every thought centered on running long, running and not stopping, running past the pain and through whatever might stand in the way. This is the start, the beginning, and the point where all of today’s hopes and dreams begin. This is the starting line and 7 AM is our commencement. One. I am one of a few thousand running, but it could just as well be one of one. The true competition is me: my body, my mind, my spirit and my determination. Will I be able to overcome myself? I keep asking myself the question. But for now I am alive and ready to run. I am determined.
Bang! Goodbye starting line. Goodbye friends. 7 AM comes and we are off. We are like a giant herd escaping and we chase each other. A few minutes later and the rhythm puts us at ease. The air comes in, the heart beats, the blood flows, the feet pound the pavement, and the air goes out. Inhale. Exhale. Pound. Pound. Inhale. Exhale. Pound. Pound. Pretty soon I am lost in the sounds.
Before I know it, the first mile marker passes by. Too fast – I am running too fast and need to pace myself. A few minutes more and mile marker 2 appears without warning. Still too fast. Need to slow down. Pace. Inhale. Exhale. Pound. Pound. I settle down, get comfortable, smile and start dreaming about all the other things I’d rather be doing. And the miles go on.
But there are miles that are not miles. So many miles are the same, coming and going, one after another. I pass one only to see another. 5 down, 21 to go. 10 down, 16 to go. Don’t start counting; it’s depressing. Pound. Pound. My mind starts to complain. I try to reason: this is what you want to do right now. Think of something else. Let your mind escape. No, don’t think. Just run. And so the miles go on.
Twenty down and 6 to go and my body begins to hurt. Slowly, I am slowing down. The miles seem to be getting longer. So many miles and still more. Push. I need to push myself through this and I’ll be done. I look at my watch; the miles are getting longer. Water. I am thirsty and crave some water.
“Water!” Someone yells water and I grab a cup from their hands as I push by and keep going. Don’t look back, stay focused on what’s ahead. I take a couple gulps and pour the rest on my head. I am still running.
Twenty-two down and 4 to go: this is pain. My legs burn and I can feel them tighten as each stride hits the ground. Stop. My body just wants to stop. Why? Why can’t we stop? Please. Please stop. It is as though I have to teach my body to run all over again. Every step is a struggle. I feel like I’ve been running all day and I’m spent. My body starts to plead to my mind and so the battle begins. I’ve hit the wall.
To someone watching, it must look silly. So much effort, so much pain, so much determination with every step. Everything I do keeps running into the wall. I’m so close to the finish and I’ve hit some invisible roadblock. One minute my mind is yelling: Keep going! Don’t stop! Next minute it is screaming: Enough! Stop! Watching, you can’t hear what’s going on inside but it’s a fight. It’s a fight I want to win. So many dreams packed into the last miles. So much of me packed into these last couple miles. Back and forth, up and over, round and round I keep searching for a way to get past the wall. The struggle won’t end until the finish line. And so the miles go on. Just a little further…