More than 25,000 people ran through the streets of Los Angeles yesterday. Their journey, whether completed in a little more than two hours or as much as seven, covered 26+ miles and a panoply of human emotions.
Completing a marathon is one of those rare life events that are so fraught with symbolism and meaning that the act becomes emotionally overwhelming — not to mention physically exhausting. The concepts of Don’t Quit and Handle Adversity Graciously and Life is a Journey buzz in your head with every foot-pounding stride upon the pavement. Indeed, for an experience that’s so much about physical fitness, the marathon tests the runner’s mental acumen even more acutely than it does his cardiovascular strength.
I last ran a marathon in 1998. This year, my 40th, I considered running the LA Marathon again, if only to reinforce the concept that I was not yet a decrepit man sliding inexorably toward physical decay. The preparation required of a marathon, the enormous time commitment, was more than I could handle this year, so I passed on the commemorative run. But watching my neighbors and city-mates (and visiting Kenyans) gliding toward their destiny, I realized that it’s not the tremendous strain on knees, feet, and schedules that intimidate prospective runners. It’s the mental thing.
Running a marathon is a kind of mobile solitary confinement. You’re in a sea of humanity but alone with your thoughts. There’s nowhere to go — except one more step, one more breath. You’ve got to continue putting one foot in front of the other and soldier on. Just as in our daily perambulations, inertia accomplishes nothing; depression must be conquered; forward movement keeps us vital. When confronted with our peculiar frailties, how many of us want to hide? The marathon strips away our defense mechanisms and bares our soul — to ourselves.
That’s pretty intense. To all the participants who completed the 2005 LA Marathon, congratulations! You showed all of us on the couch what regular people can accomplish when they put their mind to it.