"If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience another life, run a marathon."
-- some runner more eloquent than me
I'm thinking September, possibly October. This does not have to be the last and final year that I attempt to run a marathon, no, but I think the time is now, approaching thirty, to give it another shot. To see what I'm made of.
Not that that's important. The first time I came to Cambodia, teaching English to street kids with a Japanese NGO, I stayed at a hotel in Battambang that was showing, God knows how or why, the Canadian Triathalon Championships. Swear to God. Simon Whitfield, the winner, a stellar athelete and inaugural winner of the Gold medal in the sport at the Athens Olympics, talked about how he had had a bad year. And I remember thinking quite clearly: You did not have a bad year. My mind, still reeling from the dirty roads and the dusty air and the sheer, endless squalor of Cambodia, the stink of Cambodia, rejected Whitfield’s plea for sympathy, as innocent as it was. these people have had a bad year, I thought; these people have had a bad life.
But we are who we are. Any long-distance runner (or wannabe one) will eventually come to that point in time where the prospect of running a marathon takes on its own perverse and imminent attraction. I tried to run one three, four (five?) years ago, in Japan, but I blew out my knee a week before the race. It was just as well; I had tried to train in under four months, from a starting weight that was, let’s just say, somewhat immense. (Note to self: Avoid training for a marathon when one’s train station has a Wendy’s, McDonald’s and KFC within walking distance of your employment.) I vowed to tackle the marathon again, someday, and perhaps that day is soon.
We change as we grow (and grow as we change), and so I’m trying to enjoy, if not relish, the challenge of running longer and longer distances. My Sunday run has reached the two hour point, and the thought of running almost double that, which I’ll most likely need to do to complete a marathon, does give me the old Kathy Bates-shaving-James-Caan's-neck-with-a-straight-razor-in-Misery feeling at the base of my stomach every now and then.
The great thing, though, about not worrying about how fast you’re running is that you simply just run; you listen to your body, and sip some water, and watch the traffic and the people glide by you as you glide by them. I’ve actually found that my chest and my arms feel fine by the end; it’s my legs that feel as if somebody has slowly, painfully extracted something essential from their architecture. But that pain has its own rewards, as transitory and slightly sadistic as they may be.
And yet, isn’t life transitory and slightly sadistic, anyway? We age and endure and lose track of our body and ourselves. Running as something as extreme as a marathon is a way to keep track of your body and your self; it’s a means to assess who you are at that particular point in time – well or sick, energetic or sluggish, in pain or content. It’s an arbitrary distance, that 42 some odd kilometers is, but so what? Everything’s arbitrary – where we’re born and where we’ll die, who we love and who we hate, what we admire and what we dismiss. Life is nothing but an acquisition of prejudices and fetishes, and the marathon, perhaps, is a gateway to uncovering a little of both.
Maybe I’ll drop out after Mile One. Perhaps my body will collapse under the pressure. It might even be easier than I think. (Though I doubt it.) Believe me, I’ve considered all options.
No matter. I’ve learned long ago that what we learn from failure is at least as edifying as what we learn from success, if not more so. Failure means you try and you fall. I tried to train for a marathon before, so I know what it’s like to not pull it off. I’ve always found that imagining the worst thing that can possibly happen, and then accepting it, is a sure-fire way to confront and conquer any looming challenge that threatens to unhinge your confidence and cohesion. Once you’ve accepted the worst that can happen (barring death), then the thing itself loses its ability to hamper your dreams.
And it’s good to have dreams. It’s good to try and go after them. It’s good to set your sights on an arbitrary, manmade distance, and see if you can get from here to there and back again, with someone new yet familiar waiting for you at the finish line. Someone who looks a lot like yourself.
(For anyone interested in the hallowed history of my high-school running 'career', you can find it in the link dated 03/02/2005 in the ' archive' section to the right. For anyone interested in fake boobs on real celebrities, you can find them on www.awfulplasticsurgery.com. Can you believe the reading options I give my readers? Can't get variety like this at www.cnn.com, I'm telling you...)