I didn’t run.
The last marathon I ran was about twenty years ago.
Running a marathon was on my “bucket list” and I did it, and paid for it, both in the pain and stress of training, and the pain and stress of stopping my training right after I ran that race.
I had seen a “running your first marathon” training schedule in a fitness magazine, and since I was aging and refused to buy into it, I decided to go for that crazy distance.
I have since read that there was good reason the original Greek warrior died of a heart attack after completing his running journey to Athens from Marathon to announce victory over the Persians.
It wasn’t just that trip. Several days before, the herald (a renowned professional long-distance runner) ran 132 miles (214 km) on rough, unpaved roads over very hilly terrain in two days from Athens to Sparta, then another 156 miles (252 km) back past Athens to the Marathon battle site, probably fought all day in the battle, and then ran the remaining 26 miles (42km) to Athens to report the victory.
No wonder he died. But he was a herald, and that was his job.
The run to Sparta has been documented, and we can assume the herald ran back, but the Spartans wanted to wait nine days to join the battle because of a religious festival. There is debate about the historical accuracy of the run to Athens and the heart attack.
The tradition of the Olympic Marathon was started in 1896 was set at 40km. The 1908 London Olympics added a lap inside the Olympic Stadium, setting the distance at 26 miles, 385 yards, to finish in front of the Royal family box so they could have a better view of the finish.
So much for the history. I was fascinated by the thought of running 26+ miles and decided to go for it..
Running a marathon is significant abuse to your body. In Detroit in 2009, three runners died during the marathon. It was reported as not statistically significant in a race with 19,000 entrants, except to the families of those who died.
“I think the overlying message has got to be marathon running is good for your health,” said Robert Sallis, chief of sports medicine at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fontana, California.
When asked about the 25-year old who died, he replied, “Even though he died while he was out for a run, it’s clear that the running was beneficial to him,” Sallis said. “He’s not an example of why marathon running is dangerous. It’s clear to me that the running probably prolonged his life.” OK….
My purpose here is not to trash marathons. A study on London Marathon runners over a 20 year period, in fact, found that with a rate of death of 1 in 67,414 (representing 1 in 2,000,000 miles run) marathon running was no more dangerous than many other daily activities.
As a side note, I am disconcerted at the clinical disconnecting of people’s death during and in the days following the marathon event. Even if the strain on their bodies caused terminal failure, they deny it was the marathon event that held any cause.
Twenty years ago, I was capable of running one-third the distance across New Jersey in a single effort at better than 10 minutes per mile. Today, I am unlikely to recapture that physical condition or body anytime soon.
What did I learn?
The only thing remaining vividly in my memory is the pain of training and the pain of becoming untrained. I was fine when I ran (and I looked good in the photos).
I actually finished later than I could have because I encountered another runner in the final miles of the race who had lapsed into unconsciousness, but was still running. At that point it was faster to get him help at the finish line, so I just pushed him around the curves to the gate.
Officials had to tackle him to stop him from running, and the last I saw of him was as he was loaded into an ambulance, wrapped in aluminum foil, with his marathon medal draped on his chest. The medic told me I had saved his life.
I didn’t realize until later that I had crossed marathons off my chart. I learned that day that I can live a vital life without enormous accomplishments that put my life in danger. For clarification, I still run (more slowly) and occasionally complete a half-marathon.
And I listen to my body telling me when to rest.
I still travel the distance of a marathon–just not all at once, and not faster than my body can handle.
Live a vital life.