Its been a crazy few months, and the blog had to take a back seat to all sorts of missions accomplished in October, November and December. Its funny how, after being relatively calm for about 9 months, it can all boil down to the last 60-90 days of the year. A few months can make the difference between feeling like you have actually accomplished something and feeling like you have accomplished embarrassingly little at the end of the year. But success! I managed the former and feel pretty good (actually really excited) about new goals and projects in 2014 and beyond. However, before I move forward, I wanted to look back, just for a second, and appreciate my accomplishments. I tend to make a really big, dramatic, endless, self-torturous ordeal about my perceived failures and inadequacies and just gloss over the things I’ve achieved, which is not a happy or productive habit for me or anyone around me. So I’m going to part with tradition and focus on some of the things I actually accomplished this year. Enter October…
This October I ran a marathon. Now, mind you this is not my first marathon. My third actually. If I’m being honest, marathons have become my default yearly accomplishment. If I accomplish nothing else, I can always fall back on a marathon story for those painful, small talk-ridden holiday cocktail parties where everyone compares promotions or children. But I digress. Every year during training, I think about how hard my run is that day, and cannot fathom how I could possibly run another 10-21 miles to make it to 26.2. Finishing the race really does seem insurmountable most of the time and that feeling persists right up until I hit mile 20 of the race itself. I should be able to take comfort in the fact that if my body and mind managed to finish twice before, then surely this year would be no different. However, its one thing to know that and another thing to actually do it.
Each year, my friend Lauren and I pick a destination marathon to pretend to train for. Oh sure, we start out all militant and engaged at first (or at least I do). “This is the year we are actually going to train”, we say (I say). “We will stick to our schedule and do all of our runs”, we say (I say). But every year, life or wine or the like interferes. True to form, neither Lauren or I made it past the 15 mile mark in training this year. In fact, a foot injury and then the flu sidelined my training for 6 weeks before the race. Potentially catastrophic, if you aren’t an experienced slacker, like Lauren or I. However, said experience has taught us that we can run for 4 hours and 30-45 minutes, regardless of training – its just a function of managing pain and boredom, both in the moment and after.
This year Lauren and her super speedy magic typing skills managed to get us registered for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington D.C. It usually sells out online in 2 hours, so please take a moment to appreciate how fast of a typist Lauren had to be to get us both registered, along with about 30,000 other people. I’m not going to get into all of our exploits in D.C. , but suffice it to say that food, fun, sightseeing and day drinking was had by all. Naturally, we front loaded these activities because no one wants to tour a city on foot the week after a marathon. As a result, the race was the parting shot for an awesome trip to an amazing city. This is the part, during my holiday cocktail schpeel, where I would talk about how inspiring it was to be part of something bigger, if even for just a few hours. Part of a collective endeavor to persevere at a cost to no one and a benefit to everyone, surrounded by thousands of people shouting unflinching support to total strangers regardless of color, creed, socio-economic status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, etc. It really is awesome to behold. Add to that the physical and emotional sensation of runners high and there truly is nothing like it. And it never gets old – it stuns me with its awesomeness every year.
This year was no different, except it was. Now imagine it. You are running…exhausted…but overwhelmed with emotion for your 30 thousand running mates of all shapes, ages, and sizes and the almost 70 thousand people who got up at 5am to stand out in 30 degree weather and wave homemade posters and shout encouragement along 26.2 miles of course. This is fairly typical of most marathons, but again it never gets old. Now add to that the hundreds, nay thousands, of marines who came out to help set up the course, hand out water, sport drink, gels, orange slices and generally do anything necessary to make this one of the best programmed races in the nation. And they yell at you…like marines do in the movies. But its not scary, its oddly supportive, and I think I might get it now – the yelling. Now, add to that the seemingly countless people in front of and behind you running in memory of a loved one – a lost or disabled family member in the service – there are names and photos on each runner’s back. And there are SO many. So many runners with faces staring back at me, in front and more passing. I’m not going to get into the politics of it, because its much too complex to discuss here and its not relevant to this post, really. Whether I agree or disagree with the political agendas that put people in the line of fire, the bottom line is that each of those people, with faces on their shirts staring straight back at me, got THE phonecall or THE knock at the door. And it was the end of their world as they knew it and they chose this place in time to honor a memory and it breaks your heart. And then, just when you think you can’t stand to think about it anymore…something catches at the corner of your eye, up on the left. A group of people in recumbent cycles pedaling…shit….inching slowly up that grade you barely noticed…with their hands. Because they don’t have legs anymore or the legs they have don’t function. And that’s just the beginning. These are the scars and deaths that we see, because someone is there with a face on a shirt to remind you. But there are countless mental scars and spiritual or emotional deaths that go unnoticed and unhonored. And there you are, with the world expanding around you, as you truly consider the lives of so many others, if just for a moment. Exhausted, but able bodied and spiritually whole and entirely unaffected most of the time. Because its one thing to see or hear about isolated instances. Its another thing to see it en masse, staring at you, literally, in the face – the sheer totality and cost of the human condition and all of its darkest impulses. And this amazing thing you think you are about to accomplish is so small compared to the daily victories of people with faces on the backs of their shirts or people pedaling the 26.2 with their hands.
So I started out wanting to take a moment to appreciate being a finisher in the MCM. And I do. It was really hard, mentally and physically. I was cold, tired and very dehydrated, and there were so many moments where it would have been so easy just to stop and sit. But you have to push yourself to get past the physical and mental pain and have ultimate faith in the fact that, although your brain might be telling you to stop, your body can and will do it, if you can just keep going. The pain exists only in the moment and in a couple hours it will be just a memory. I imagine its much the same for people racing with physical disabilities or people struggling with the additional emotional burden of running in memory of a loved one. But its not the same, is it? And thats ok. Another person’s struggle and success doesn’t minimize my own. In fact, I am probably a better person for being able to bask in the amazing accomplishments of others who have a more difficult path than I do. No mutual exclusivity here. Just a mutual appreciation perhaps….one so strong I can’t wait to do it all over again this year.