|“You feel like a single cell of one huge organism consisting of 30 thousands similar running cells”|
Photo: Bill Brine / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution
However, there are times when I allowed the word "grueling" into my thoughts. In a few instances it happened at the late stages of a race when my ambition reached farther than my strength and energy. And on a few other occasions it was during the training for one of those races. I guess it's unavoidable. Most marathon training plans run for 16-20 weeks, 5-6 days a week. If we take the 16 weeks / 6 days plan, that amounts to 96 runs. Some of them are bound to be tough, some will be spoiled by bad weather, and some by bad people or my own bad mood. Toughing those out makes them grueling.
Answering the challenge
Every marathon finisher—and there are more of us every day—will tell you that running 42.2 kms (26.6 mls) is beyond hard. Some do it once to prove that they can, and never subject their bodies to that pain again. But, many more runners keep coming back, doing it over, and over, and over. There's something about answering the challenge in you; when you conquered the marathon once and lived to tell the story, you want to do it again. Each time the challenge is slightly different; first time it may have been to finish the race, then it was to finish under -:-- (insert your own goal time here), and it gets crazier from here. Some people run the same marathon over and over, as a ritual, carving metaphorical notches on their shoes so they can say "oh, I ran such-and-such marathon 15 times!" Others collect them like rare antique items. They run a marathon in every state (USA), or a race on every continent. The latter is deemed too easy (not enough continents to boast about, I guess), so to up the challenge for the bragging rights (because, that's all there is to it) it has to be done in the same year. That is getting trickier as the Antarctica's ice is melting, making the iciest marathon not only the wettest, but the most challenging for the safety reasons as well. With the new marathon races popping up like mushrooms, especially in the United States, one of the fads is to run the "every state" challenge in one calendar year.
Although I deeply enjoy the atmosphere at the races, and racing itself, I am afraid to put such a challenge to myself. Not that I wouldn't physically able to do it—without false modesty I believe I would—but I feared I'd come to hate running after that. Instead, I picked a different challenge: to run all Marathon Majors. For a guy my age and with my (slow) speed, I decided to do it as I can, definitely not in the same calendar year.
I expect you know all this, but for those who don't, bear with me for a few lines—or just skip to the next paragraph! The Marathon Majors are a league-style competition consisting of six of the most reputable marathon races in the world. The "league" was established in 2006, made up of Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City marathons. For ordinary runner it only means they are very difficult races to register for, as the quota of participants gets quickly filled up. The elite runners—those Kenyans and Ethiopians who actually win the races—have a special incentive for running the majors—the first five runners in each race earn points, and at the end of a two-year period, the runner with the most points gets a $500,000 prize as a marathon majors winner. Sweet, eh?
For a regular Joe Blow as yours truly, this challenge to run the majors may appear too easy, and maybe subconsciously I was fishing for a challenge that won't make me dedicate my whole life only to running. After all, when I made it my goal, there were only five of the majors. But, don't forget you need to qualify for some of them—Boston, for example. While I was at it, I managed to qualify for NYC too, so I wouldn't depend on the lottery draw to participate. Then came Berlin and Chicago, which were both beautiful races, well organized and executed. And, just as I was a single race away from my goal—the elusive London marathon whose entry lottery I keep missing—the organization added Tokyo into the mix, in 2013. Imagine approaching the finish line of a marathon, only to be told that you have one extra mile to go—that's how I felt when they dropped Tokyo into my bag of wonders to achieve! At fist I was put off, but soon learned to look at it in new light: now I had another spectacular race to experience, and that promptly improved my mood.
Great thing about the majors challenge is that you get to run six of the best marathons in the world. In each of those races crowds of spectators stretch the whole length of the course and carry you on, cheering squads and live music make it all seem like a giant—and, granted, a bit grueling—street party. Beside, you get to see some of the greatest cities on the planet, and they stop the traffic and open their hearts for you to tramp on.
Just as every one of us runs for his/her own reasons, so does each of us experience the race differently. One thing I noticed in each of the four marathon majors I ran—the atmosphere, especially at the beginning of the race, tends to take your breath away. Pushing off at Hopkinton during the Boston marathon, the road dips down and for a moment, cresting the starting hill a view breaks in front of you of a road winding through the forest, alive with thousands of bobbing heads, swinging arms and wagging shoulders, all bathed in the golden aura of the rising sun. At that very moment it hits you that you are participating in the oldest, and arguably the most prestigious marathon on the planet. You glance at the faces around you where the same awe is clearly reflected in almost religious fashion. And you feel as a single cell of one huge organism consisting of 30 thousands similar running cells, snaking its way toward Boston. Your eyes fill with tears and your throat constricts with humble pride from being a part of it. You can feel the unspoken excitement, tear-inducing reverence of every participant and closeness that transcends brotherhood among the runners. That massive wave of emotions you can only feel in special races. And for that feeling alone it's worth to run the majors!
At the time I write this post, I've already missed yet another draw for London. There's always next year, right? On the other hand my pulse accelerates at the mere mention of Tokyo; I am waiting for the results of the participation draw for the 2015 edition of the marathon. Wish me luck!