Picture her, a lean runner jogging briskly through a freshly paved path between green and brown earth. The crisp autumn wind bites at her cheeks. She is alone, early in the morning as she has been so many other mornings. The sun, just moments ago reflected an orange blaze across the horizon, but now the sky settles in blue for the morning. She breathes deep and her chest fills with oxygen and with strength. Her eyes water and she squeezes them shut to clear focus in on the upcoming bend in the road. She realizes that at this time she feels completely in the moment and in this moment she is weightless and she lets a smile peak through her breath. A thought passes through her, “is this ‘Runner’s High?'”
She has heard about the high before – the state of euphoria that a person experiences while gliding over the pavement, both exhausted and also simultaneously completely full of energy. This, she thinks, is the first time she has actually felt it, even after training hard for so many months.
Each step, though there have been many steps, begin to take rhythm as if part of a perfect little symphony, timed and measured and playing along. There is no orchestra and there is no conductor, but she feels the energy of a concert. And though the pace has covered many miles, she breaths perfectly on each stride, pushing forward.
This particular runner is training for a marathon. She has been training for months, disciplining herself with hours of street-time, early mornings, and an unruly appetite. She has, for most of her life, wanted to run a marathon, and now, just one week from today, she will get her chance.
What is it about the marathon that so appeals her? It is the great challenge. It is her Everest. No, to be clear, it is not literally the towering mountain in the Himalayans, but it feels so in her deep breathing and in her tired legs. It is her Unicorn. No, it is not unreal or mythical, but the mental fortitude she has needed to train never seemed real before it began either. It feels very real now. It is her Big Accomplishment. A moment that won’t define her as a human being, but it will define her. Absolutely it will. For her, and thousands of others like her, the marathon is not a race, it is a challenge of character. One that stares at her, tempting and taunting every moment before she can say she did it. If she fails to conquer, she anticipates with angst a feeling of failure. If she succeeds, she knows with certainty that she will feel success. And yes, she is sure, based on everything she has ever known that success itself has a distinct feeling.
The marathon is nothing more than a feat to accomplish. A barrier between a person and her self-worth. The marathon, running 26.2 miles on a cold Saturday morning, may not motivate everyone, however. It may not be everyone’s “Everest.” Another person may view in a similar manner such a challenge as unappealing or even foolish.
This person, one with no interest whatsoever in running a marathon, may instead have other obstacles between her and her self-worth. These feats of accomplishment might be a career promotion, starting a business, learning a skill, landing the perfect mate, or a special travel experience. Each person has a marathon to run, but it isn’t always a marathon. After all, what is a marathon? Why 26.2 miles? Why the bumper stickers and the bravado for such an event?
The marathon, as it is known today, originated when a Greek messenger “raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, with the news of an important Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C. After making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died. To commemorate his dramatic run, the distance of the 1896 Olympic marathon was set at 40 kilometers” (source, History Channel).
Forty kilometers is equivalent to about twenty-five miles. A distance long enough to strike a runner dead even with the most passionate of motivations to finish in good health. The marathon presents a feat of accomplishment, but one of great struggle. One of celebration and victory, but also one of death.
Every person needs marathons in his or her life. Big audacious goals and aspirations that feel ridiculously out of reach. Everests. Unicorns. In this, the rise to such a challenge, a person finds fervor and excitement similar to the euphoria that a person experiences while gliding over the pavement, exhausted and full of energy all at once.
What is your Marathon? What exhilarates you and excites you? What are you living for? What are you working towards? Go get it.