As marathon runners, we talk a lot about the accomplishment. Just finishing your first is an accomplishment. Completing your second, something far fewer people achieve, is an accomplishment. Finishing faster than before is an accomplishment. Qualifying for Boston is an accomplishment. Every time, we relish in the accomplishment that is the finish line.
As a group, we don’t often complain.
But the truth is, marathons are hard work — really hard work. The race is grueling. The training is tough, and tedious, and requires incredible discipline, and is often done alone. It sucks (forgive my language) — really sucks — when you’ve worked for months only to be defeated by an injury, a cold, a bad day. You may finish, but in your mind, not strong enough.
I watched both the men’s and women’s Olympic marathons. I found myself getting angry at the commentators for not relaying the emotion, and strategy, and pain, and joy that each of those runners was experiencing.
I couldn’t believe Deena Kastor dropped out at the 5K and nobody found out why. I kept thinking about the hours, and the miles, and the mental energy she had spent on that race. Only 48 hours later did I find out her foot broke! What must her body have gone through the months before the marathon to literally just snap?
And did you watch Deriba Merga in the last 200 metres just let the bronze slip through his fingers? After 26 miles, with less than half a track lap to go, and an Olympic medal at stake, he just had nothing left. He watched Tsegay Kebede, his Ethiopian teammate, just whip past him. There is an incredible story in that moment.
And why didn’t anyone in the chase pack make a move to catch female gold medalist Constantina Tomescu? There is a story in that too.
The greatest of them all, Paula Radcliff, ran Beijing on relatively little traditional training due to a stress fracture. Her face told that story. So did her place, 23rd overall. Consider this. Before Beijing, Paula had run eight marathons, winning seven.
Michael Phelps is amazing, no question. But his total time racing to achieve those fantastic eight medals was about 14 minutes, spread out over one week. At 14 minutes, his marathon athletic colleagues had barely begun.
I am training for my 6th marathon right now. That’s more than Ryan Hall, more than Olympic gold medalist Sammy Wanjiru, only two shy of Paula. There is speed work, and hill work, and long — really long — endurance runs. It will all lead up to 26.2 grueling miles. At multiple points throughout, I will surely want to give up and slow down. As I approach each aid station, I will debate the pros of cons of stopping to drink. I will tell myself starting at mile 18, “just take it one mile at a time.”
I will finish, no doubt. I will celebrate the accomplishment, regardless of the time. I will proudly wear my medal all day, as I always do. But it will be hard work.