Monday, October 27, 2008

Reflections from a marathon impostor

My friend Renee successfully completed the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday and I organized a group to travel around the course to cheer for her. Despite rules forbidding unregistered participants on the course, I ran with her from miles 20 to 25 in an attempt to distract her from excruciating knee and hip pains. Although I'm normally a rule-abiding citizen, without hesitation I embraced my role as a marathon impostor in hopes that it would help her to finish the race.

What an eye opening experience it was to run the last few miles of a marathon with fresh legs and a nonparticipant perspective! The memories of my own marathon experience, struggling with the never-ending 14th street bridge and the desolate area by the Pentagon, quickly returned. But I think that because I simply joined the race at mile 20 this time, people's hardships seemed more prevalent to me. Everywhere I looked, people were bleeding, crying, and limping. Most people were walking (or should I say hobbling) more than running and some were nearly passed out on the side of the road. For the average person, running 20+ miles takes huge physical and mental tolls. Your mind and body begin to shut down. It was inspiring to see people fight through pain and discomfort. And because I wasn't hurting this time, their struggles stood out to me and seemed even more impressive. The crowds cheered more intensely during these later miles and the exhaustion as well as the raw energy were palpable.

Just after mile 23, I saw a woman who I know from work on the sidelines. The moment she saw me, she screamed encouraging words! Feeling guilty for garnering support for a race that wasn't mine, I quickly motioned to my friend and called, "I'm not running... I'm supporting!" to which she countered, "Yay for supporters! Go runners!"

At mile 24, Renee and I came upon a man younger than both of us who had this printed on the back of his shirt:
Brain cancer survivor
March 10, 2007
He ran swiftly towards the finish line of a race that he probably never thought that he could complete or even live to see two years ago. My heart overflowed.

I left Renee at mile 25 and soon after I found Brad and we started walking towards the finish line, two young runners stopped us. As they hobbled along, the man saw that Brad had a half-full water bottle tucked into our backpack's side pocket. The young man asked if we could spare him some water so that he could take pain medication. We happily obliged and gave him the bottle. Not caring that we were complete strangers who had already finished half of the water, he put the bottle to his lips and swallowed his pills with eagerness. We felt happy to help him.

Numerous people swear off subsequent marathons during the last miles of the race because this stretch is extremely challenging in many ways. But then the high at the finish line and the post-race pride eventually call them back again.

And would I run another marathon, even after acquiring a different perspective on the experience?


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