Standing on Common Ground
Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
You are a speck in the midst of thousands of people standing somewhere just behind a starting line. They are all there for different reasons. Each has his or her own story leading up to this moment. Some are there representing themselves. Many are there in support of other people, or other causes. A few have amazing tales of extraordinary human spirit. Just standing where they are now, they have already defied the odds. What they are about to attempt is a true representation of what can be accomplished with hope, desire, and effort.
A surprising few are actually there for the same reasons you are. But standing on common ground, at this moment, everyone has the same two goals. One is to start, and the other is to finish. In a short time, all will accomplish the first. Within the next 2 1/2 to 8 hours, most will realize the second. Only 26.2 miles away from a lifetime achievement and a ton of memories all wrapped into a medallion hanging loosely around your neck.
The marathon. It's so much more than a race, as many already know, and many more are soon to find out. The marathon. The term is used by the layperson to represent an unimaginable, monumental, virtually impossible task. And in a way it is. Once completed, even the runner says never again, while the seasoned veteran can't help but give a knowing smirk upon hearing it. But for one who believes, and trains well, for one who asks "why not" instead of saying "if only", it is within one's grasp.
The whole feel of the starting line, and the people around you is so much different in a marathon than at the shorter distances. The air reeks of Ben Gay and respect for your fellow runner. Standing on common ground, you know that running royalty surrounds you, because you know what you have had to do just to get here. You understand your own motivation, and your own desire, and you somehow wonder what stories surround you. And you wonder if anyone has the self-doubt that still nags in the background. You can't see it in their faces, but you somehow know it is there.
They say that the marathon is actually two different races. From my point of view, the first 20 miles is a result of perspiration. These go fairly easily due to the months of physical preparation, the long runs, and the lifestyle changes you have been willing to make to be in top form. The final 10K is mostly inspiration. Once the legs give out, the mind must take over, and reminders of why you started keep you moving towards the finish.
A marathon not yet run is an uncertain future, and for some of us, that's why we do it. Anything can happen when you push your body beyond its stipulated limits. And sometimes, it does. If you're lucky, it's nothing more than a couple of blisters and blackened toenails, which you can carry to the finish line. At its ugliest, it keeps the medal from being draped around your neck, and it can turn your dream into a nightmare. It's the common ground of the marathon runner.
If success was a given, the thrill of the marathon might not be. Many of us do it simply to defy those who say we can't. Others do it as a process of changing our own tapes, which for years said we couldn't. But marathon success is never guaranteed. So much can happen in those 26.2 miles of common ground. Those miles can encompass a runners greatest accomplishments, as well as their most bitter disappointments. Knowing that, after all that training, you could, but something went awry and you didn't, is a tough pill to swallow. But it burns a desire to return and defeat the beast. It's not a DNF. It's a UFB. Unfinished business. You know you will return. It is the common ground of the uncommon person. The marathon runner.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.