1. Pleading Insanity
On October 20th, I will run my first half marathon, namely the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. For the past year or so, everyone who would listen has been forced to endure my incessant and overly exuberant talk about running and my goal of completing a full marathon. Finally, by registering to run this race, I suppose my actions match the level of my talk, and I will soon face the first real test of whether or not I can run a full marathon.
The typical reaction to this decision has been an interesting mix of encouragement coupled with an allegation that I might be insane. Friends and family jokingly make mention of the fact that they tire from simply walking up the stairs or tell me how many cigarettes they’ve had by the time I’ve completed my morning training. It seems to be the typical way of providing encouragement, but also reminding you of just how unusual and absurd a task you’re undertaking as far as they’re concerned.
Running is a boon to both physical and mental health, that no one can deny. The fact is, however, that excellent health does not require that anyone run a full marathon or even a half marathon at any time. In fact, attempting to cover either of these distances without proper training, preparation, diet, and ensuring that you’re not at risk for incurring long-term damage, can result in more harm that good. In our busy modern lives, something requiring such dedication seems a bit much.
There was a time, which I have written about previously, when running was natural to our species and covering long distances was a necessity for survival. Scientists and anthropologists contend that our bodies evolved for running and perhaps this is why running just feels so damn good. This time, however, is gone. It’s no longer a necessity. Excellent health and conditioning is possible and achievable by so many other challenging but significantly less draining and excruciating means. The time investment and level of commitment required for a marathon is a full-time job in itself.
I myself can only find the time to train in the early mornings before the sun becomes overbearing and before I am too occupied with day-to-day obligations. By 5:30 am at the latest, I begin running, meaning that I must forego any indulgences the night before and also the day of, lest I completely undo my hard earned results. Friends gasp in horror at the fact that I can no longer put butter on my toast or have a drink or allow myself even a single cookie. Surely, in this short life, such sacrifices are foolish. I myself must admit that the mental energy expended on avoiding these things is as great as that which it takes to get out of the door and start pounding pavement in the morning.
Perhaps the accusations of insanity aren’t completely unfounded.
2. Act of Defiance
The fact is that at any big city marathon, most runners are not there to win. They’re merely one in a field of thousands who may or may not cross the finish line and if they do, it will be long after everyone has stopped paying attention to standings. They’re the ones who, like me, are accused of being insane. They’re seen running around the block every single day and showing the commitment of a professional athlete without any of the compensation or glory. They span all ages and fitness levels and some are even completing the race in the midst of life altering afflictions or disabilities. There is no public glory for any of them, only a satisfaction that they’ve done it.
I believe that for these individuals, as it has been for me since beginning this journey, that the reasons for taking such a demanding road to fulfillment is an act of defiance against our own fears and demons. It is a way of not only proving that we are capable of superhuman feats, but of slamming our own afflictions into the ground and defying them in the most spectacular way possible. I believe firmly that the awe in which we, especially as Canadians, hold Terry Fox is due not just to the fact that he brought awareness to the plight of cancer, but that he was so brazen in the face of a condition that is meant to be a death march for all affected by it.
I have several reasons for wanting to run a marathon and foremost among them is a thirst to show defiance against all that holds me back. I have discussed openly my struggles with depression and the burden it places on my mind and body. I am among that percentage of the population whose brains are wired in such a way that defeat is a natural feeling, and often the strength of one’s desire to love and be happy and productive is thwarted by a condition that is present in you by no choice of your own.
On the worst of days, your body tells you that you will never know happiness and that your moral worth is nil. On these days, getting out of bed is the greatest victory you might hope for. The future doesn’t exist and while you pray for tomorrow to arrive and bring you a clean slate, tomorrow can seem too far away.
This is why I run and is part of the reason why simply running as a hobby wasn’t going to be enough. Physical exercise is well documented as being a superb bulwark against depression and my own personal experience has cemented this as truth for me. My determination to run is only strengthened by the fact that I know going without it would be devastating because it makes such a powerful statement against all that holds me down.
It is my own small act of defiance against my personal demons and struggles. It tells me that I am stronger than that which afflicts me and though my mind might get in the habit of telling me that I’m weak, I know that this cannot be true if I have charted 15 km up and down the hills of my neighbourhood, moreso when I’ve done it before most have gotten out of bed.
I don’t want to train every morning, but I do. I know that I will never achieve elite status as a runner and that it will only be so long until friends and family get sick of hearing me talk about my running exploits.
The glory does not have to be noticed or lauded by others, because it is already there as my feet hit the pavement in my grand act of rebellion, not just against my own pain, but against the idea that rationality must be the basis of all our pursuits. Indeed, it makes no sense to run a marathon. Our lives are busy and because of this our conditioning puts many of us in no position to pull off such a feat, but that perhaps makes it all the more wonderful. There is nothing quite like doing something that you’re told not to or that you can’t do, no matter who tells you and what stage your life has reached.