I am a marathon runner. I am a terrible marathon runner. It is something that I am not good at, nor do I ever care to be. I have been beaten by a blind person, 3 different people over 70 years of age, a juggler, and a 9 year old. I even finished a marathon where I was so far back, that the finish line was already taken down by the time I got there. I am a laughable example of how anybody can run a marathon. Nonetheless, I am a marathon runner.
I can't begin to explain what running a marathon has meant to me. The last few years have not been the easiest for me, and that's putting it lightly. Now I don't want to pretend that I have had some awful life or anything, but certainly I remember easier and better times, and its hard sometimes not to long for such days. I had started running about three and a half years ago. It just started with a simple 5 mile race that has been a staple in West Chester (The Brian's Run). I decided to do a few more races over the next year or so, and then did the Brian's Run again in 2010. This is when I decided that I wanted to do a marathon, and I knew the Philadelphia Marathon was 11 months away. Perfect. Plenty of time to work my up to a few ten mile races, then a few half marathons. I was months away, then weeks, then days. I enjoyed my new past time, since it was truly the most therapeutic aspect of my life. Sure enough, I was in the best shape I had been in in years. I found that I was more focused, organized, and felt a sense of stability that I had been absent for quite some time.
I can remember everything about my first marathon. I remember waiting in the corral, inching up to the starting line, crossing said line, and starting my first 26.2 mile quest. Seeing streets lined with crowds of people, enjoying the sights like the sun coming up over The Ben Franklin Bridge, and the sounds of the festive South Street. Passing the Art Museum knowing I was half way done was just as exciting as the start of the race. Running down the Schuylkill River into Manayunk, grabbing a beer (my personal tradition) and heading back to the finish. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon is certainly one of the top ten moments of my life. All that training, all that planning and organizing, all that preparation....it was all worth it to feel like a champion in my own mind. It didn't matter what anybody else thought about it. It was my accomplishment, it can't be undone, and nobody can ever take it away from me.
I have done 3 marathons since. One in our nation's capital, one in Wilmington, DE, and one in Cape Henlopen, DE. I have run by monuments, stadiums, zoos, rivers, sand dunes, and even The Atlantic Ocean. I have done marathons with thousands of spectators, and one that had about ten. I have run on city streets and at state parks. I have enjoyed every moment so far, and I can't wait to do more.
There is a unique bond between marathoners. I have had quite fun telling my stories to others and they have had many a laugh (as have I) over hearing them. Having said that, when I have told these stories to other marathon runners, they have all pretty much said the same thing. "Hey, you finished! A lot of people would have given up, and even more wouldn't even try in the first place." Marathons are unique, because anybody can do one. When I ran the Philadelphia marathon, there were some of the best marathoners in the world that I was competing against. Now that may sound silly (because it is silly) but it is also true. A silly truth indeed, but how many people who have played baseball get to play in a Major League Park? How many golfers get to play at Augusta? Not many. But as a marathoner, I got to run down the same streets as some of the finest runners in the world.
Running a marathon has taught me one of life's greatest lessons. That lesson is: You don't have to be good at something to get satisfaction out of it. Some people run marathons because it is such a great way to push one's self. Competition really helps some people excel. Others like the sense of accomplishment. It means something to cross that finish line, put that medal on, and be able to say "Look what I did!" For me, I can honestly say that I enjoy the journey. Its such a marvelous way to take in the world. I have seen some pretty spectacular sights (whether they are natural or man made). I have had stretches where I have run in miles with thousands, and stretches where I have run by myself. The charge I get from running with others is awesome, but so is the sense of peace and quiet when I am running alone.
Today's events in Boston have shaken me quite a bit. Its a different feeling than 9/11. Within hours of the towers coming down, we all knew who Osama Bin Laden was. It didn't take long for the sadness to turn to anger. At the time this is being written (7.5 hours later), there isn't an answer yet as to why this happened. It is humbling to see people focus on the tragedy, and not focused on retribution (of course we all want that, but there will be plenty of time for that.) One of the great parts of marathon running is the spectators. Their cheers are so encouraging, and can really help a runner dig deeper down and keep motoring. They really do make the race that much more memorable. In all 4 of my marathons, I can remember plenty of spectators that offered encouraging words, sang songs, held up funny signs, and even offered free beer. They make the day so much more enjoyable.
It was just released that 3 people have passed away, and one of them was an 8 year old. This has had me on the verge of tears as I have been writing this. I mentioned earlier how there was a marathon where I finished so far back that they had already taken down the finish line. I had severe blisters after mile 8 of the marathon in Cape Henlopen. It would have been very easy to give up and just call it a day at the half way point. However, I knew that my boys were going to be there at the finish, and it really meant something to me for that to happen. That image kept me going as I pretty much had to walk the last 18 miles. It was very difficult and very painful, but I did want to give up. As I turned the last corner, there were my boys waiting there, along with the entire Bonnes family. I can't even begin to tell you how much that made the 7+ hours worth that moment. (and of course, Bob had a beer waiting for me). Having my boys run the last 50 yards of this race with me is something I will never forget (and I will be forever grateful to Bob and Lauren Bonnes for making this happen).
(On top of all this, I immediately went up to one of the race organizers and apologized for taking so long. He said "Congratulations. No worries. We knew you were still out there, and we weren't going to leave until everyone finished." This is kind of the essence of the marathon community).
I don't know how to process today's events. I can only say that I am proud to be a part of the marathon community. It has been a fun, adventurous, therapeutic, stress-relieving, and overall a healthy community to be a part of. I am looking forward to competing in a few marathons this year, and continuing my quest for running a marathon in all 50 states. I am sure there will be more funny stories to tell (like getting beaten by a man who is hopskotching, or doing a keg stand at mile 15 of a race in West Virginia).
I pray for the ones who were lost. I pray for the speedy recovery to the wounded. I pray for all those who were there to cheer on runners, and now have unforgettable memories of this tragedy.
I believe it was in the movie "American History X" where Edward Furlong said his brother (Ed Norton) told him that its always good to end with a quote. He said someone else has already said it best, so if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong.
So to steal from the great Bill Bowerman
"Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: Life."