In the early days when I exclusively ran short distances like 5Ks or even 10Ks, I often wondered what it would be like to run a marathon. The thought was intimidating to me. That was just too much, no way would I be able to do that. Watching a marathon finish changed my mind.
One March weekend in 1997, I tagged along my mother in law to watch her fellow teacher friend finish his annual marathon excursion in Napa Valley. To make the trip worth my while I joined the accompanying 5K, called the Three "R"s, Reading-'Riting-'Rithmethic. I won my age group and I stuffed my medal in my pocket. After my quick race, we stood for hours and waited for the marathoners as they came in one by one in varying stages of exhaustion, exhilaration and for many, the fight to keep their legs from locking up before they got to the finish line. The local elites came in first, one even clicking his heals in mid-air! How did he do that, he just ran 26.2 miles? Friends and families hooted and hollered, and shouted words of encouragement: "You can do it! You're almost there! Looking good!" People clapped and screamed, as the announcer called out the names of the finishers. What was ingrained in my memory was not the fast finish of the elites or sub-elites, but the normal, everyday Joe Shmoe. I witnessed regular people doing extraordinary feats. I remembered a middle-aged lady, in particular, hobbling to the finish. Clearly she was favoring her left hip. It was obvious that her right hip was in excruciating pain. I could never forget the grimace on her face for every step she took as she got closer to that finish line. I wanted to run to her, to steady her. My mother in law and I looked at each other in amazement. I was choked up when she finally reached the end. (It would be half a decade later that I would fully realize the feeling of that late stage marathon fatigue.) I was simply in awe of her. What an incredible resolve she had to be able to push through that kind of pain, for that distance. On the way to Napa, I tried to wrap my head around how long 26.2 miles was by looking at the odometer. It tired me out. All kinds of people were crossing that finish line: old, young, male, female, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, grandparents--you get the picture. Those who look like they couldn't run a mile and people with handicap were all crossing the finish. Medals hung over their heads as their faces beamed with pride. I can't think of any other sport in the US where you get a medal just for finishing. Running is indeed such an inclusive sport. What a great achievement--for anybody who wants it. All you need are shoes, shorts and a tee.