Today (April 21, 2014) the 118th Boston Marathon was run. It was the one-year anniversary (by edition, not by date) of the bombings which occurred on April 15, 2013, afflicting the 117th running of the race, killing three people and injuring 260. The perpetrators were Chechen terrorists which was the same fear that plagued this year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, causing it to become the most expensive Olympics ever, because of security. Last year’s marathon bombings spawned a hashtag #BostonStrong as well as a logo taken from the Boston Red Sox insignia.
Though it wasn’t as physically devastating as 9/11 for New York City, it was the equivalent for Boston in terms of psyche on the city.
Stephen Colbert humorously pointed out that Boston, and marathoners, are the wrong target to pick a fight with because of their resilience.
The Boston Marathon is one of the only marathons run on a Monday instead of a Sunday. The reason is because they want it to coincide with Patriot’s Day each year. How appropriate for people who are proud of our country, in opposition to people who attack our country! Also, it is appropriate that a year after the bombings, it was none other than an American (Meb Keflizighi) who won the top prize, as opposed to the usual Kenyans or Ethiopians. Meb was the first American male to win the Boston Marathon since 1983!
What is the appeal of marathons? I mean, how boring is it to watch people run 26.2 miles (or 42.2 kilometers)? In this ADHD generation, it seems that Usain Bolt and the 100 meter dash are more suited to the instantaneous reward/appeal typical of people who have not learned the value of delayed gratification. And yet, the marathon is more popular than ever. Every other person seems to have it on their bucket list.
I can’t claim to have run Boston (which is one of the “Big Six” marathons in the world, along with London, Tokyo, New York, Berlin, and Chicago—officially known as the World Marathon Majors) but I can give my perspective from running the Los Angeles Marathon on March 20, 2011, which was my first-ever marathon. (I have since run nine marathons, including San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Niagara Falls, and Chiang Mai).
The 26th Los Angeles Marathon was held on the first official day of Spring—but came not with sun but with torrential downpour, highly unusual for L.A.! I ran it with six guys from my church, and one of them (Tony) said to us after the race, “Glad to be a true part of history with you all. We will always be able to not only say we did a marathon, but we did THAT 2011 marathon!” Yep, it rained cats & dogs—I didn’t realize I had signed up for a biathlon (running and swimming)! I started getting worried when I saw the animals lining up two-by-two. :)
Here are some of my personal thoughts and observations about that experience:
-I’ve never done 26.2 miles before. The longest I ever did was a 20-mile training run a month ago. That last 6.2 miles took tough mental strength to get through—more than physical strength. But if I hadn’t crossed the 20-mile threshold a month previous, I think psychologically it would’ve been a lot harder. Just having the first digit switch from a “1″ to “2″ was significant in my mind. As I said to my fellow runners Bryan & Brandon, it’s like in the Fellowship of the Ring movie, when Sam says to Frodo: “If I take one more step I’ll have gone further than I’ve ever gone before.” That’s how I felt when I crossed the 20-mile mark, but it was a fun and exciting adventure to venture out into the unknown. We were like explorers in the wild frontier.
-Brandon Adachi & Bryan Ventura were my “wingmen” (or I was theirs—regardless, we all supported each other). We were the Three Amigos. No WAY I could’ve done this without them. We ran side-by-side the whole time, and crossed the finish line together with our arms around each other. “No man left behind” was our motto. Without them, I would’ve given up long ago. Maybe this was like Moses having Aaron & Hur lift up his arms for him (Exodus 17). The battle is not won with just one person—I guess God is a Trinity for a reason, eh? “A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:12).
-The rain was horrible and a blessing at the same time. We were soaked to the bone, and it was cold. When we were running down Rodeo Drive, it really started pouring again, but I said to Bryan & Brandon, “Hey, look on the bright side, we can’t get any wetter than we already are!” because we were already saturated. But actually the rain was a blessing in disguise—it acted like a perpetual ice pack on our legs and kept us from cramping too much. If it were hot weather and dry, we would’ve been encrusted with salt (from our sweat) and our leg muscles would’ve overheated and flared up uncomfortably.
-At some point, I started thinking, “I can’t wait til this is over.” But then I switched my thinking: “What a privilege to do a marathon for the first time in my life. Enjoy the process! It’s not just about the end goal.” So then I started enjoying the moment, and the experience.
-I’m grateful to have finished it (and we actually made our goal time of 4:30, exactly on the dot)! Hundreds, or even thousands, of people didn’t finish because of the rain—there were lots of injuries, people had hypothermia, etc.
-We were running for a purpose. We were sponsoring the Christian organization ChildSHARE which helps foster & orphaned children. It wasn’t about us, but I was proud to have ChildSHARE written across my shirt, running for “the least of these.” As Eric Liddell says in the movie Chariots of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose—but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure!” Well, I would modify mine to say, “God did not make me fast, but he made me for a purpose—and when I run for that purpose, I feel his pleasure!”
-All credit is due to the ladies (Kimmy, Erica, Maura, Lisa) behind the scenes. As a single guy, I benefited from the wife/girlfriend support of my fellow runners’ women. These ladies didn’t get any of the glory but did so much of the work, even taking care of us guys after the race when we were shivering, helping to pick up one of our team members when he was stranded, driving all the way from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica and fighting traffic…wow. I can’t say enough about them. Gratitude abounds. I do hope we never have to make them go through this experience again, though! They were also sopping wet.
-Three other guys, Albert, Alex, and Jason, also ran it with us. Though I didn’t run side-by-side with them, I knew they were behind us, and the team extends no matter where (geographically) we are. It’s like church I suppose—we can have people domestically, others on the mission field, but we’re still part of one body. Albert was a trooper, he was out in the rain for several more hours than us, and he stuck it through and finished strong. What a guy. THAT is impressive. Other than the women, Albert is my hero!
-Encouragement helps a ton. Two of our church members, Daniel & LaMikia, were waiting for us at Mile 5. They gave us big hugs (and a corresponding energy jolt!) there. ChildSHARE also had a station at Mile 15 where they had food, drinks, and more encouragement! The other benefit for running with ChildSHARE is that they had a suite at Dodger Stadium at the beginning of the race, so we had food & drinks, luxurious bathrooms, and we didn’t have to wait out in the cold.
-The person who designed the race course was merciful. The last two miles were all downhill. Oh my word, I needed that. That night, I went to eat Korean BBQ—guilt-free, I might add, since I just burned almost 3000 calories during the marathon!
-A marathon is all about consistency. We were running with a pace person, and she kept on saying, “Conserve your energy! What feels fine at Mile 5 is going to feel dangerously fast at Mile 23!” It’s tempting to just take off because you feel good, but a marathon is about running smarter, not harder. Oh, and the pace person was such a good sense of security—although I was running on my own power, she instilled a sense of confidence in me—if I just stick with her I’ll be fine because she knows what she’s doing. Maybe this is how we are with God—balancing divine sovereignty & human responsibility: yes we do it, but really it’s God who keeps us going and we’ll be fine as long as we stick with him! Without him, we’d do it all wrong and come to a bad end.
Some fun factoids about the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon:
-This was the second time ever featuring this course, dubbed “Stadium to the Sea.” The course took us through from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica beach, winding its way through/past Chinatown, Olvera St, Little Tokyo, City Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Echo Park, Hollywood Blvd (Pantages, Capitol Records Tower, Grauman’s Chinese Theater), Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Historic Route 66, Silver Lake, etc. The motto of the marathon was “A Landmark Every Mile”! Extremely scenic.
-Two major records were broken in 2011: the fastest U.S. marathon ever (this on a course that is not known to be a fast one, plus with the additional obstacle of rain), and the heaviest man to ever finish a marathon (as now recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records). The former record was done by Ethiopian Markos Geneti in 2:06:35—the second-fastest marathon debut in history (i.e. he has never run a marathon before this)! The latter record was done by American sumo wrestler Kelly Gneiting at over 400 pounds, who did it in 9:48:52.
-The female winner was Buzunesh Deba from Ethiopia at 2:26:35. It was the first time an Ethiopian, male or female, has won the L.A. Marathon. Kenyans had won the previous 12 men’s races.
-The Gender Challenge: If the lead man catches and passes the lead woman (after she has a 17-min head start), he wins $100,000 (in addition to the $25,000 prize for winning the whole thing). Usually, if this happens, the man catches the woman at Mile 25. This time, the man caught the woman at Mile 20—that’s how fast Markos Geneti was going!
-Celebrities who ran the 2011 L.A. Marathon: Gordon Ramsay (Hell’s Kitchen); Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Edward Norton.
-Out of 25,000 runners, there were 220 Legacy Runners—people who have run every L.A. Marathon!
-There was a lot of great music along the way: “I Love L.A.” (Randy Newman); “Don’t Stop Believing” (Journey); the theme music from “Rocky”; and live bands.
-The marathon organizers posted hilarious signs along the way to keep us laughing. My favorites:
“You are at Mile 5; the Kenyans are at Mile 15.”
“You are at Rodeo Drive; no shopping, keep running.”
“Why is a marathon 26.2 miles? Because 26.3 would just be wrong.”
-I saw a few people running it barefoot. Crazy, I tell you.
I love the fact that marathons are run in every major city in the world, so there is an international flavor to it, similar to the World Cup or the Olympics or the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Yep, every country (just about) has one, so for a world traveler like me, it is a perfect complement to travel. I don’t like to be just a tourist, I like to travel for a goal, whether it be for missions trips or to attend conferences, or to run! Many marathoners have a goal of running a marathon on every continent, similar to how many baseball fans have a goal of visiting all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. I’ve already completed the tour of MLB stadiums; I hope to do the six World Marathon Majors (I’m doing Chicago this Fall) and the Seven Continents Marathon Club (yes, there is an Antarctica Marathon)!
Best marathon quotes:
Rob de Castella, winner 1983 World Marathon Championships: “If you feel bad at 10 miles, you’re in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you’re normal. If you don’t feel bad at 26 miles, you’re abnormal.”
Asics: “First you feel like dying. Then you feel reborn.”
Oprah Winfrey: “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”
Bill Rodgers, winner of four Boston and four NYC marathons: “The marathon can humble you.”
Hal Higdon, running writer and coach: “The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”
A sign I saw while running the L.A. Marathon: “Why is a marathon 26.2 miles? Because 26.3 would just be wrong.”
Another sign I saw while running the L.A. Marathon: “You are at Mile 5. The Kenyans are at Mile 15.”
Seen on a running shirt: “Anyone can run a hundred meters, it’s the next forty-two thousand and two hundred that count.”
Alberto Salazar, three-time winner of the NYC marathon: “I had as many doubts as anyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.”
Emil Zatopek, Czech runner; winner of four Olympic gold medals: “We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”
[To reconcile these last two quotes, I would say: we all start at the same place. What separates a marathoner from everyone else is not ability but the willingness to do it.]
And in homage to the Boston marathon bombings:
Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN: “Marathons, more than any other event I’ve covered in 20 years’ worth of international sports experience, are a celebration of a range of achievement, not just the top percentile. The amateurs run in the footsteps of the elite. The pride is palpable from the front ranks all the way to the back. The massed color and movement at the start are an impressionist painting of accomplishment. Because — honestly — most normal folks would tell you that getting there is achievement enough. The training they invest and the self-belief they develop in the process are worth it, no matter how long it takes them to finish.” “The marathon is symbolism for overcoming and facing challenges. This will not stop anyone. If anything, it will inspire people to persevere and show that we’re better than that.” “Amateur marathoners push themselves for a whole host of reasons. To test their physical and psychological limits. To raise money for worthy causes. To compete. The next time this — or any — marathon is run anywhere in the world, they will run for yet another. To show that the power of communal achievement can be beaten on one day, but not on most days and never indefinitely. And that is what makes sense on a senseless day.”
Roger Robinson, Runner’s World: “Marathon running has a long tradition of celebrating, commemorating, and affirming life. Even without that special purpose, marathon running is a sport of goodwill. It’s the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It’s the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It’s the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It’s the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody. If you’re losing your faith in human nature, look at marathon crowds, standing for hours with no seating, no cover, no bathrooms, to cheer thousands of strangers. Or look at our sport’s volunteers, on whose shoulders the whole sport rests.”