Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Marathon Madness

My brother-in-law, David, just finished his first marathon in 4 hours and 16 seconds. I’m so impressed with him. My friend, Hugh, just finished his first marathon in 5 hours and 15 minutes. I’m equally impressed with him. David’s fretting about those 16 seconds. Hugh’s fretting about not coming in under his target time. To me, the time has nothing to do with why I’m so impressed with these guys or anyone else who runs a marathon.

I’ve always admired endurance athletes. Not for their skill or physical strength, but for their mental strength and discipline. We’re all born with the bodies that we’re given and we can train and exercise to shape those bodies into what we want. But there’s a point where the body lets us down (in my case, with cancer). That’s when the mind and heart take over.

If you ever need evidence of the strength of the human spirit, willpower and determination, go stand near the finish line of a marathon.

I watched the marathon runners come in yesterday. Some were sprinting with their last ounce of strength (after four straight hours of running!). Some were hobbling or limping toward the finish line, fighting leg cramps or muscle breakdown. One man was bleeding from the face and arm, but still jogging along. Another guy was pushing his partner in a wheelchair and as we cheered them on, the woman in the wheelchair took a deep breath and brought her arms down on those wheels to “sprint” toward the finish. I saw little old ladies and men who looked like they were in their 50s and 60s – some so thin that I couldn’t believe they could even stand on their stick legs, let alone run 42 kilometers with them. I saw overweight runners who looked like they were carrying sacks of potatoes around their waistlines. And all this in 32 degree heat and 80 percent humidity.

I was so amazed and awed by these runners and what it took for them to get that far, I decided then and there that I would try to run a full marathon next year. I don’t care how long it takes me (although I hope I finish before the street barricades come down); I just want to finish it. I’ll walk, jog, run, hobble, crawl probably, but I’ll finish it. I’ve always wanted to finish a marathon before I die, so I’m going to do it before I’m no longer able-bodied.

I know that long-distance running is NOT good for the body. It's a completely unhealthy thing to run marathon distance all in one go. I've seen an X-ray view of what happens to the body during a run – it’s incredibly violent force we put on our joints. And for 42 kilometers!

And contrary to popular opinion, it's not good for the heart either. The human heart isn't meant to beat at such a fast rate for such a sustained period of time. Remember the heart surgeon/veteran marathon runner who died during the New York City marathon several years ago? He had a heart attack! And those who died in the Chicago marathon this year – they blamed it on the 32 degree heat. Well, it’s 32 degrees in Singapore every day! And the Olympic marathon runner who just died a few weeks ago – he was only 28 years old!

So no, it’s not healthy. But I’m going to do it because I want to prove to myself that I can overcome my physical shortcomings with my mental strength. I won’t be stupid about it, though. I’ll train all year and be prepared. I’m not going to beat cancer just to die from running a marathon. That would be silly.

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