Saturday, October 1, 2011

Squeezing Me To Tears



Marathoning is such a grand event, and the way it takes place on the streets and the earth is nothing compared to the way it takes place in my mind.  It has taken on a much more spectacular event in my brain, my heart, and my soul, and has a deeper existential meaning beyond just a physical endurance event on a Sunday morning.

Sure it’s a run, a long as hell run, but more than that. It is me staring into the void, and the void challenging me back, asking me what am I made of? (how a void can challenge back, I don’t’ know). It is the eternal existential question: What's in your essence? What’s in your soul? Are you up to the challenge of being your best? Can you blast past previously self-imposed artificial limits?  Can you walk on water, part the Red Sea, can you not shrivel in pain and fear when the moment comes? Will you run on and endure or crumble into a fetal position and whimper with the challenges you face?

A marathon is the arena in which I prove myself worthy, that I am strong, a frigging fuckin warrior of life who will battle back, fight to the bone and not let blood or sweat or ripping muscles and tendons stop me.  It is life squeezing me and squeezing me to find out whats inside, what am I made of, and my essence oozes out and I bare myself for all to see, and I answer.  Hellz yeah, I got this. I got this and life is beautiful, I am beautiful, and I am Me, hear me ROOOOARRRR!!!! Fucking beast.


Just to show up marathon morning is to face the fear. Dreams of thousands hang on the precipice of that start line, and Fear is at the start of every marathon. I don't care if you have run fifty. There's fear that you won't run your goal, fear of that little injury in your calf since you know that if there's any weakness, the marathon that awaits you of you will exploit it to its core.  Fear of not finishing, fear of embarrassment, will it rain, will you be hurt, will your dreams be squashed, will you not be up to it? will you chaff, did you wear the right thing, you have to pee, you may throw up, you ate too much, not enough, will you curl up into your safe ball of comfort when that gargantuan test is put before you? How will you feel when the heat of the event starts to boil all of your fears and truths to the surface, can you hack it?  Its primordial and filthy stuff, and you won't come away unchanged.

And the power of thousands of people answering the challenge collides at every event, and there’s an unspoken connection.

Don’t you believe you can feel the people next to you in the last 6.2? That there’s a mystical and spiritual connection to thousands of other runners?  Hard to describe, but there is some odd connection that happens to people you never saw, may never see, but just to be near them and experiencing the same thing, all of you in your most vulnerable and stripped down moments. Because you know the person next to you at mile 24 has also been training for weeks, has been running many hours of the day and thinking about running the rest of the hours of the day, and now you have come together for the grand and ecstatic climax.

Whew, that’s a lot for just some training, but I have always made the marathon about way more than just training to feel fit, to give my life more purpose, clarity, and the lovely spiritual and emotional detox of a strong run. It does all of that, and more. It is an existential moment where I have to define myself and rise to the occasion.  And since there is such a build up, maybe that’s why I always cry. The moment I finish a marathon the tears flow, unabashedly, not because I am hurt, (because of course I am hurt) but because I am so alive at that moment, and everything I am made of is being squeezed out of me and I showed up, I did it, I am a Warrior, I felt the fear and did it anyways. 

This whole concept of the power of a running event was the guiding force when I wrote my second novel, The Jade Rabbit. I wanted to write a story that exemplified a complex character who was training for a marathon, and that her whole existence; emotional baggage, psychological fears, biological hopes (she’s been unable to get pregnant) were all played out in the drama of the marathon. The quest to run a sub 3 hour marathon is more than just an accomplishment and a medal, but would define her whole being.  That’s what a marathon does for us.  If the novel is successful in displaying this to the reader is yet to be determined, but the story is so personal, that every time I read it, I still cry.

I know, that sounds crazy. “You mean you know the ending but you still cry?”  my wife asks. Uh-huh.  Then again, same thing happens when I watch Terms of Endearment, Lion King (ya know, when Musafa challenges Simba that he is more than what he has become) and of course the movie The Champ has left a permanent mark.  No, those aren’t red boogers on my sleeve, that’s my heart. Well, maybe a mix of both. And all that stuff that comes out of you when your run-- that’s not sweat, that’s your heart and soul dripping out of every pore of your skin, cause you’re getting squeezed.

So, no, it's not just a run.  Don’t ever let it become that. It’s you against the negative forces in life, the voices in your head, that old teacher from seventh grade or the evil deities in your head all trying to make you feel and believe you are less than what you are. You aren’t, damn it, and you got your medal, your race day t-shirt, your appetite, and your tears to prove it.

1 comment:

ZAHiDA JAFFER said...

Love it! You have a way of articulating what I can't on how I feel about running. I think I'm going to cry at the end of my half marathon next weekend. I'm also a bit fearful of it, as you describe. But mostly excited.

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