Why marathons matter

marathonI watched my first marathon at the weekend. My husband was taking part, and I was bursting with pride. He was daring greatly; challenging himself to do something he didn’t know whether or not he would be able to do. He was making himself vulnerable by sharing his intention with others, asking for their support, their donations to his chosen charity. He was scared of the distance he would have to run, but, along with thousands of others, he did it.

And his commitment to his training was admirable, the required physical discipline impressive. But it was the outpouring of good will and advice that flowed his way, which struck me most. The overriding message coming loud and clear from friends and colleagues was to “run your own race”, to focus on your own journey through the 26.2 mile course, to not become consumed, put off, or swept along by those who may appear to be faster, stronger, or more accomplished than you.

And what a bloody marvellous message that is.

Not just for marathon runners. But for all human beings making their way through life.

Because its in those moments when we glimpse others who appear to have their shit more together than we do, who appear better at doing what we would like to try, that we feel like giving up; when we lose our strength, and feel like sitting down on the metaphorical kerb and weeping because it feels like there’s no point in striving for our goal any more.

Whenever I start, or want to start something new, I’m often paralysed by the thought that someone somewhere is already doing it, and doing it better, who would laugh in the face of my meagre efforts, my lack of knowledge, my lack of ability. Which may or may not be true. But these limiting thoughts can and do hold me back from daring to try, from putting myself out there and giving it a go. That’s why I love the words of Theodore Roosevelt telling me that its not the critic that counts.

If it was the critic who counted, marathons could not be the powerful events that they are, full of raw human endeavour, compassion, support and goodwill. Those brave folks I watched bleeding, limping and crying on their way to the finish line, loved ones who crossed the finish line holding hands in acts of solidarity, the cries of “you can do it!” coming from the mouths of my children as they watched the spectacle. Marathons would instead become a handful of elite athletes competing to win, not tens of thousands of individuals willing to brave it and run their own race.

And with all these thoughts in my mind, the tragedy unfolding at the Boston Marathon held a particular poignancy, the destructive aggression of the act so at odds with an event so powerful, important and worthwhile. I hope that the outpouring of love, support and encouragement that is at the very heart of a marathon will aid the healing in Boston, will bring comfort at a time of great sorrow and will ultimately hold more power than the harmful act that brought it so cruelly to a standstill.

photo credit: Kris Krug via photopin cc

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