Saturday, August 9, 2008

The feelings of being a marathoner

Dean Karnazes ran 50 marathons in 50 days. I'm posting, with permission of his publisher, an essay by Karnazes that captures the emotional feelings of being a marathoner. One caution about his comments on the pain of a marathon. Competitive runners, especially those who run 50 marathons in 50 days, do need to train hard for a marathon and will likely experience the pain that Karnazes describes. Most of us, though, are recreational runners who can reduce the intensity level of their training such that they need not feel pain during the marathon. I ran four marathons when I was in my mid 40s, and I never felt pain of any kind during or after the races. I did, however, have the emotional feelings that Karnazes describes.


Marathon -- The Ultimate Proving Ground
By Dean Karnazes,
Author of 50/50

A Marathon is not about running, it is about salvation. We spend so much of our lives doubting ourselves, thinking we're not good enough, not strong enough, not made of the right stuff. The Marathon is an opportunity for redemption. "Opportunity," because the outcome is uncertain. "Opportunity," because it is up to you, and only you, to make it happen; only you can turn your farfetched dream into a reality.

You see, there is no luck involved in finishing a marathon. The ingredients required to tackle this formidable challenge are straightforward: commitment, sacrifice, grit, and raw determination. Plain and simple.

So you set about your preparation to ready your body for the rigors of running 26.2 miles. You train diligently, dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to the challenge ahead, pouring everything you've got into it. But you know the Marathon will ask for more. In the dark recesses of you mind, a gloomy voice is saying, you can't. You do your best to ignore this self-doubt, but the voice doesn't go away.

The Marathon shakes you to the core. It deconstructs your very essence, stripping away your protective barriers and exposing your inner soul. At a time when you are most vulnerable, the Marathon shows no pity. It tells that it will hurt you, that it will leave you demoralized and defeated in a lifeless heap on the side of the road. The Marathon heckles you, saying it can't be done, not by you. "Ha!" it torments you, "In your dreams."

However, you fight back, and continue your training and preparation with steadfast resolve. Then, one day, you find yourself standing courageously at that starting line, nervously awaiting the gun to go off. When it does, you put your head down and charge off into the abyss with the knowledge that you either paid your dues, or skimped along the way. There is no lying to yourself, the Marathon sees right through excuses, shortcuts, and self-transgressions.

All goes well for the initial miles. But slowly, step by step, the pain mounts as the intensity of the endeavor amplifies beyond your expectations. You remain resolute, knowing that you did not skimp, that you did not take shortcuts along the way, that every footstep was earned through countless days of diligent preparation. Still, with each wearing thrust forward, that little nagging inclination of self-doubt progressively advances toward the surface of your awareness.

Then, at mile twenty, the voice looms louder than ever. It hurts so bad you want to stop. You must stop. But you don't stop. This time, you ignore the voice, you tune out the naysayers who all your life have told you that you’re not good enough, not strong enough, not made of the right stuff. This time, you listen only to the passion in your heart. This burning desire tells you to keep moving forward. To continue putting one foot boldly in front of the other, and don't stop. Courage comes in many forms, today you will have the courage to keep trying, to not give up, no matter how dire things become. And dire they do become. At the 26 mile mark, you can barley see the course ahead, your vision falters as you teeter on the edge of consciousness.

Then, suddenly before you, looms the finish line. Tears stream down your face as you cover those final few steps. Now you are finally able to answer back to that nagging, pervasive voice with a resounding: Oh yes I can!

You burst across that finish line and are forever liberated from the prison of self-doubt and limitations that have formerly held you captive. You have learned more about yourself in the past 26.2 miles than you had known in a previous lifetime. Now you are freed from the chains that bind. Even if you can’t walk for a week, you have never been so free.

As they carry you away from the finish line, wrapped in a flimsy mylar blanket, barely able to raise your head, you are at peace. That daunting adversary that has haunted you for an entire lifetime is now your liberator, your fondest ally. You have done what few will ever do -- you have done what you thought you could never do -- and it is the most glorious, unforgettable awakening ever. You are, a Marathoner, and you will wear this distinction not on the lapel of your clothing, but in your heart, for the rest of your life.

©2008 Dean Karnazes

Dean Karnazes is the author of 50/50 and the 2005 New York Times bestseller, Ultramarathon Man, and a columnist for Men’s Health magazine. Often called the “Lance Armstrong of the running world,” he is the winner of the 2004 Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley (considered the world’s toughest foot race). Dean Karnazes lives in San Francisco with his family.

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  1. I need to purchase Dean Karnazes new book!!!!!

  2. I just received a review-copy of the book and will be posting my review of the book. The book is very easy to read.