I remember when I first started running many people questioned why I wanted to do something they thought was a waste of time. From their perspective a marathoner runs for hours and hours and the only reward they receive at the end is a piece of medal on some ribbon, a banana or bagel, and very sore muscles. I guess when you put it in that context, running seems a bit silly. As someone pointed out to me, that is why they invented fossil fuels – so we didn’t have to run everywhere.
I was reading the obituaries one day and one caught my eye. It was for Wendy Bailey, a woman who passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 47. In her photo she had a beautiful smile, the kind that would welcome anyone she would meet. As I read about her life, I realized she was the kind of warm friendly person you would love to know. There was a quote in her obituary that struck a chord with me. “When you constantly challenge yourself, you discover a lot about who you are.” Marathon runners understand how true that is.
I can tell you from my own experience there is something that happens to you when you finish your first marathon. You are not the same person who started the race. Crossing the finish line transforms you like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. Before my first marathon, I was intimidated by many things. I was not an athlete and the thought of running a marathon was frightening. But after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I was never afraid of anything again. Along with my medal came a big dose of self-confidence. Hey, if I can run 26.2 miles and not die, I must be much stronger than I thought.
There are plenty of reasons why people decide to take on the marathon. They may be running to raise awareness and funds for a cause that holds deep meaning for them. People run to fund research to find cures for diseases like breast cancer, Crohn’s disease, or neuroblastoma, or for social causes like clean water in Africa. I ran my first marathon in honor of a friend who was battling an incurable form of lymphoma, fundraising in the process.
Other people may be striking back at something that has taken away their own ability to move such as wounded warriors. They prove to themselves the strength they still have. In some cases, people are striking back at abilities that they never had. A good example is Tatyana McFadden who was born with spina bifida and has not known anything other than a wheelchair. Tatyana has won 11 marathons. I have watched Tatyana compete and she is an amazing young athlete.
As for me, I was healthy when I started running until Transverse Myelitis changed my life five years ago. While I started running to show support for my friend, now I run for myself. I don’t know what the future holds for me. If the music is going to stop some day, I want to make sure I cram in everything I want to do while I can do it. I won’t let TM run my life.
Kathrine Switzer said once “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” Running a marathon takes courage, determination and strength (both mental and physical). When you watch a marathon, you will see all kinds of people. They all have one thing in common – they had the courage to show up at the start line and challenge themselves. And at the finish line, as Wendy said, they will have discovered much more about who they are.