Picking Splinters: Marathon Images Haunt and Inspire

November 1, 2006 4:43 PM0 comments

Last weekend, I found at least 34,000 people that I wouldn’t mind having in the proverbial fox hole with me. It wasn’t exactly a lengthy interview process. In fact, we didn’t even speak. All they did, really, was compete in the Marine Corps Marathon.

 



Despite living in and around D.C. since 1999, I’ve never really paid much attention to the marathon until this year, when my girlfriend’s sister, Colleen, decided to run in it. With new insight gained from hanging out with an actual marathoner (this is Colleen’s third), I’ve officially confirmed that there is simply a level of commitment there that I just don’t have.

Forget about the whole running thing for a second. Training for one of these bad boys is a year-round commitment that demands you closely watch, not only your workout, but your diet as well. For instance, when my girlfriend, Kristin, stocked up her fridge for her sister’s visit, we learned there are certain foods runners avoid like the plague prior to the race. Such as the muffins Kristin had bought.

“Why don’t you want the muffins?” Kristin asked her sister.

“They’re bran muffins, Kristin. Bran.”

That’s an advanced level of thinking right there, apparently even for the rest of the running field. That much was proven on my Metro approach to Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, when 15-20 runners lined the fence just beyond the Metro tracks — relieving themselves before the race. Including one gentleman (that’s probably a misnomer now) who clearly failed to adhere to the no bran rule … an unfortunate sight for all involved. Again, that level of commitment … this guy at the keyboard doesn’t have it.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even gotten to that whole running part yet. It’s 26.2 miles. That’s more than 104 laps around a track. I get blisters after about four miles, and that’s a guess, because I’ve never run four miles. Nor would I, unless I was being chased by wolves … or if Bran Boy from the Metro tracks was trying to give me a pre-race hug.

On a serious note, the event is a dangerous one. The first guy to ever run a marathon died. And it remains dangerous, as Sunday sadly reminded us when the race claimed the life of Earl Seyford.

Finishing the race is no picnic either. Runners hobbled through the crowd around the finish line, wrapped in some kind of foil, with their faces caked in the salt from their sweat. So much so, in fact, that just walking around the windy finish area, I could taste the salt on the back of my tongue.

You would think that to complete such a rigorous feat, you’d have to be a prime physical specimen, owning the bodies of Ruben Garcia or Laura Thompson, the race’s winners. That is an incorrect assumption. With all due respect to the lovely Colleen, the vast majority of the runners I saw on Sunday were well … normal.

Many were middle-aged, whose strands of gray whipped around their face in a brisk autumn wind and whose paunch jostled a bit with every foot fall. These weren’t bodies endorsed by Billy Banks of John Basedow. These were just … people. So how can they do it? From the scenes on Sunday, my guess would be inspiration.

Even in a field of 34,000, it was not hard to spot purpose. Some ran for members of their family, like Tim Mullen who pushed his disabled daughter, Leah, the entire 26.2 miles. Ditto for another man, who gritted to push his overjoyed father up the final hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. Some ran for cures to cancer or AIDS. Some ran for the absent, sporting t-shirts of loved ones serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some ran for the departed, with sweat-soaked memorials draped over their hearts, inspiring them to push on and remember a face unseen since Sept. 11. Others didn’t run at all. Instead they sat in a wheelchair, using only their arms to show that losing their legs did not mean they had lost their spirit.

And in these vignettes of illustrated inspiration, I found my own. I wanted to be a part of this, which is something I never thought I would ever feel. Ever. Heck, I wrote my college application essay on how much I hated running. Even as a kid, I always fast-forwarded through the marathon segment on “16 Days of Glory.” But here I am, actually considering running a marathon. That runner’s high they always talk about must be contagious.

But if I were to race one, and complete it, what couldn’t I do? Besides eat bran muffins …

There’s a level of empowerment that this event provides that is truly amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I’m still contemplating running next year. Now, does anyone know any good wolf handlers?

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