This comes from someone who’s only completed one, in an awful time no less. And I hate running. So take it for what it’s worth.
Break down a marathon into three parts. For the first 8-10 miles, it’s important to be fully human because this helps let the adrenaline flow. This is a special sensation that’s conspicuously absent in your training sessions. For the first leg of a marathon, you are unbelievably part of the human existence. Vibrant bodies surging forward, seeking ways to distinguish themselves as individuals and for individual causes. I ran for my grandmother. Others run for breast cancer awareness, their favorite charities, and personal demons to exorcise. It’s a tearful exercise in being human and it shouldn’t be missed under any circumstance.
In the middle portion of the race, miles 10-20, it’s important to morph into a machine. It helped me to repeat a mantra again and again: I am a machine. I am a machine. I am a machine. The crowd has thinned out, and you are more or less alone to your thoughts. Thoughts are largely unhelpful, especially thoughts regarding doubt and length of distance. Reduce your complexity to the singularity of your goal, the finish line. One goal and one thought: I am a machine.
In the last leg, return to you. This is the hardest part because you won’t find the same exhilaration and joy you felt the last time you were human. Instead you’ll get what Jesus got in the desert after 40 days of fasting, which is surmountable despair and agony. Here is the burning temptation to quit…just don’t. Why should we open ourselves up to this? Because this, as much as it was with the adrenaline, is what it means to be human.
Runners always say that running is a metaphor for life and this is true to an extent. We don’t have the luxury of segmenting our lives into neat 26.2 subdivisions. But there are times when joys need to be fully felt and times when we need to confront ourselves with dogged endurance. For me though, the most insightful reminder has been to say, from time to time…Shut it out. Right now, I need to be a fucking machine. Reduce, singularize, but make sure the goal is worth the sacrifice.
This much is true.
My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance — all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson. (It’s got to be concrete, no matter how small it is.) And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it. (Yes, that’s a more appropriate way of putting it.)–Haruki Murakami