We runners aren't necessarily historians. But sometimes we do ask ourselves: what would have happened if the Persians had won the Battle of Marathon instead of the Greeks?
What if there was no legendary run from Marathon to Athens by Pheidippides, who exclaimed -- Chairete! Nenikekamen! Be joyful! We are victorious! -- then promptly fell down and died?
Lord willing, tomorrow's event in Richmond will be my 18th marathon. I have worked daily to prepare for this race. So what are my goals going into it?
First, finishing times mean a lot less to me today than they did when I first started running 6 years ago. My best times in most distances are likely behind me. For me (and I know for many other runners who will be in Richmond tomorrow) the important thing will be simply being there, enjoying the fruit of all the preparation that goes into a race like this. Nobody can deny that just finishing a 26.2 mile race is a very, very, very special moment. Why? It's the same feeling you get when you graduate with your doctorate or get married or have that first child. Whether anybody acknowledges it or not, completing a marathon makes you feel special. The person finishing behind you is just as much an overcomer as you are, and vice versa. And if your goal is to raise funds for a charity, the joy of helping others is an even greater barometer of success. All this culminates when you cross that finish line with a sense of accomplishment that defies description.
In tomorrow's race, I will have no qualms about running slowly and taking frequent walk breaks. Running 26.2 miles is not easy. If it were, there'd be little challenge to an event like a marathon. For an athlete, you find more fulfillment in trying to reach your potential than in collecting t-shirts, times, or medals. The victory lies in the effort. My goal tomorrow is to run as close to my potential as possible. That's how I define "victory." If I can produce the best expression of who I am, then I will be happy. A good race time would be icing on the cake.
I also want to run wisely by conserving my resources from the beginning of the race. The only way I know how to do this is by inserting walk breaks into my race to slow down the pace of my running. Through trial and error (mostly error), I have discovered that steady, relaxed running -- balanced with walk breaks -- is not only enjoyable but cuts down on injuries during a marathon. I will enjoy a slow and comfortable pace, knowing that with patience comes peace of mind. (Funny that the word peace in Italian is pace.)
I can't wait to see how I do tomorrow. I still can't believe that I am a marathoner. Not a fast one and never a contender for any prize. Like everyone else who has run a marathon, I love the sport. I've come back to the marathon time and again. No race other than an ultra challenges you in character as well as in skill. This distance is all about enduring -- and suffering. The race is as terrifying as it is satisfying. It's the culmination of months of training, time, and energy.
The fact is, marathoners don't choose to run a marathon despite its difficulty. They run because of it. If my running a marathon can inspire just one person to move from the couch to being active, it will have been worth it.