"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Start Line

Whenever I would hear about someone running a marathon, I would think to myself, "Who could do that? Who could run for 26.2 miles?"

Now that I've done it myself, I know that the actual race is really not the big deal. It's the training.  We're talking hours and hours for months and months of discipline and dedication.  In preparing for the actual race, I estimate that I ran over 360 miles and invested about 60 hours on the Washington and Old Dominion Trail (W&OD), and that's a modest estimate of a modest training program.

When you commit to something like that, when you spend that much time with nothing but your own thoughts and the rhythm of your own breathing, you can't help but be changed.  Every mile-marker brought me a shorter distance from who I was when I started and a step closer to who I hoped to become when I finished.  Through the sweat, the heat, the rain, the sunrises, and the eventual foliage you become part of the trail, you find harmony with your thoughts, and your race becomes your friend.

I once ready a quote that helped me understand why I love running. "Running is such a fair sport. There's no interference. It's just me and the road." For me, that's true. I prefer to run alone, and I look forward to the long stretches of time and the gift of hours during which I work out my thoughts, my hopes, my regrets, and my plans. The running is a pursuit of clarity. And I think that's why I found so much friendship in those miles. Every single one became a friend. Now that the training has ended, I miss them. I miss the early morning air, the momentum of distance building behind me, the constant companion of my pace, and the mental calculation of miles to minutes.

Running is the way I learned to understand myself. Being understood requires a level of introspection and honesty that can be difficult to tolerate. It's a reckoning. But, instead of avoiding it and running from it, I ran to it, through it, and to some degree out the otherside.  It isn't always comfortable. It wasn't always easy. The path of least resistance was always tempting me; I could give up at any time.  There would have been some comfort in quitting. This form of therapy (in my case) was unforgiving. But it brought me peace.

So now, when I hear that someone has run a marathon, I know the accomplishment isn't finishing the race. The achievement is everything invested in getting to the start line, and the strength to release all that was left behind on the way there. 

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