I have always been reasonably athletic, but in kind of an awkward way. I could make teams, and usually play, but I was never good enough to get any real recognition. Then I found a sport which seems to fit my personality — running. It’s honest — you get out exactly what you put in, and you don’t have to worry about teammates messing up or officials blowing calls. And best of all, race entrants are divided into age groups with awards in each group, so the competition thins out with each successive group. (That’s about the only advantage to getting older I can think of.)
Baseball has its World Series. Football has its Super Bowl. As a lifelong sports fan of average (mediocre?) ability, I know I’ll never experience the thrill of competing in them. But running has its marathon — a road race covering 26.2 miles. It’s not easy — it requires months of training and, as the joke goes, the first guy to complete one died — but it’s doable for the average athlete. So in the fantasy world of my mind (where I’ve also been known to pretend I’m Bill Gates), the marathon has become my Super Bowl.
I try to run one a year, and this year’s event is quickly approaching. Right now I’m in a mentally fragile phase — I’ve piled up the mileage, but also the aches and pains. Do I stop now, to be sure the aches will be minimized and lose a bit of training? Or do I keep at it for another week or so and hope no one ache becomes a real problem? Running is more art than science and everyone’s body responds differently. Experience helps, but when you get so close to a goal, the allure of a really good performance starts to cloud your judgment.
Speaking of goals, what would be considered a win? Finishing and getting the medal would be the first criterion. But there’s one more. As I’ve mentioned at other times, the ultimate goal for any average runner is to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So at this point (since I’ve successfully run a dozen of these already), that’s the definition of winning. But in the past couple of years, I haven’t even come close, another reason for just one more week of training.
Does this have psychological implications? Yes, it sure sounds like it! I remember when a touch of arthritis was diagnosed in my right knee and I consulted a physician’s assistant about its ramifications, he ended the conversation with “And when you’re ready to treat the OCD*, just go down the hall.”
Let’s just say running fills a need, and enjoy the moment. Whatever happens in a marathon, it’s always quite the experience.
* obsessive-compulsive disorder