Yesterday I did something that–6 months ago–I swore I’d never do.
I ran the San Francisco Marathon. If you don’t know (and why would you) a marathon is 26.2 miles. Roughly, that works out to about 526 blocks, 461 American football fields. Or, basically: a really, really, really, really… really, really fucking long way.
There’s no other way to say it. Yesterday was agony. Miles 22-26 was like a scene from The Walking Dead. A mob of mindless, limping limbs dragging themselves toward a fabled finishing line. “This is for stupid people.” The body tells the mind. And it’s not wrong, but in my experience, stupid‘s usually the smart one.
One day past the finish line this is what I most appreciate about having run the marathon; a few unexpected benefits, and a handful of reasons why I think you should commit to running one. Even if, like me, you said you never would.
Few moments in life can compare to the starting line of your first marathon. Except, I imagine, going to war. The actual reality of going to war sounds awful to me. The romanticized version in my head however… well, that’s a different story. In that version I’m a 6ft 5, flowing-locked, face-painted barbarian whose one true love has been raped and murdered by the bastard English on the eve of our wedding night. Heartless bastards! Now. Here I stand, shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of kinsmen, staring evil-eyed across the land at the English army we’re about to slaughter. The song Uprising by M– USE echoes out across the landscape of my mind. Each lyric a line from William Wallace’s hair-raising Freedom speech. A horn is heard and the hordes begin to march. The race is underway. The feeling of war rises up my spine like a feeding frenzy. Insanely awesome. It didn’t last long, if only a moment. But I swear, by the blood of the bastard English, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
Mischief. Mayhem. Good old-fashioned trouble. I fucking love the stuff. Don’t ask me why. It’s just always been one of my natural dispositions. I’m good at it. I get in trouble like Houdini got out of chains. Trouble tells me it’s a good idea to drive motorcycles without a license or insurance. She tells me valiums go great with Jameson. She’s crazy. She’s trouble. For as long as I can remember, she’s sought me out to offer me council.
In my 31 years I’ve spent a lot of time with trouble, never more so than on Friday nights. The good thing about running, especially those epic training runs (the 18 and 20 milers) is that they happen around 8am on Saturday mornings–that’s when mine happened anyways. Trouble doesn’t even get out of bed before noon (unless she hasn’t gone to sleep). You get an early Friday night, get up, and you’re a fucking champion before breakfast. By the time you’re back, trouble’s up, and ready to get in some trouble. I’ve never owned a watch, but in my world, that’s a good time.
6 months ago I was a smoker. Not one of those Nancy-Dan social smokers neither. I was a Billy the Kid smokes-in-the-holster smoker. I loved the shit out of cigarettes, I still do (in a crazy-ex-girlfriend type of way). Yeah, sure, I have a cheeky smoke now and again when I’m drunk, but that’s all it is. I like it that way because it reinforces that it’s my decision. Once you smoke everyday it’s not your decision anymore. I smoked everyday since I was 14. I was smitten with that dirty bitch, but in the end, she was no good. When you decide to run a marathon, you effectively break up the relationship. Why? Because when you decide to run a marathon you’ve got two choices: smoking or breathing. For better or worse (and yes–all you self-righteous non-smokers–it is a tough call) I chose breathing.
It’s true what they say: there are some crazy mother fuckers out there. Six weeks ago, all alone in the middle of a forest, I ran into one. As part of my training I did The Canyon Meadow Trail Run–an infinitely glorious race through the Redwood Forests. About 10-11 miles in I bumped into a short 65-year-old man from Kyoto. His name was (and still is I imagine) Hajime–a word that means ‘beginning’ in Japanese. It felt symbolic then, and it still does now. I was running the 30K. He was running the marathon. Very. Very. Slowly. Somewhat laughably so, until I realized it was his 655th–his 2nd that week. This man completely captured my imagination. For miles, I listened to him spout stories and wisdom, in between huge fits of laughter. Tales of 150 mile hikes across the Sahara. Open reflections on losing his wife, and raising his children. Mile-after-mile, Hajime slowly began to reframe my view on running, life, the universe, and everything. Master and apprentice lost in the woods of Dagobah. After long pauses, he would say stuff like:
He was, without a doubt, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I’d never have met him had I not started running. Somewhere along the line I half expected him to disappear, like a Spirit of the woods. Thankfully he remained. And still does, every time I go out for a run.
Like many, I literally have the attention span of File>Open New Tab>Internet. Like you, I know not what’s whittled away at my ability to pay attention to almost anything. Perhaps it’s the Clockwork Orange number the Internet’s dialing into our brainboxes–that endless torrent of content forever grabbing the eyes by the balls. Whatever the scientific explanation is, just like you, I am attention-intolerant. Evidently, there is no cure. Not even Internet Porn. That said, I have found running extremely long distances for hours on end doing absolutely nothing except running extremely long distances for hours on end does help. Running requires very little thinking: left foot, right front, reverse, repeat. Do that for three hours and your brain stops thinking. The benefits of focusing on nothing, is that you become slightly better at focusing on something. And like everything, practice makes perfect. I cannot guarantee it’ll work for you, but it’s certainly done wonders for “Holy Shit! A window!”
I’ve had a lot of good beers in my life. The second best beer I ever had was at my first ever job. I was washing pots and pans in an English restaurant in Spain. I was 15 at the time. At midnight the chefs would stop cooking, fuck off to the bar and leave Oliver Twist over here staring down the barrel of a thousand greasy pans. It was hard work. When I finally finished, they’d pour me a pint. I don’t believe in God, but that shit tasted like heaven. It was the moment I knew: Beer was the dogs’ bollocks. Now, and I don’t say this lightly. The beer I had directly after the race was the best beer of my whole entire life. If for no other reason my friends: do it for the beer.
The expression “Now we’re back where we started” is usually reserved for situations that have either gone wrong or gone nowhere. Popular examples include, but are not limited to: office drones forgetting to hit Command + Save, noble knights lost in a Minotaur’s Maze and, as I found yesterday, people running Marathons. In the case of the marathon runners, the place at which you started is also the most amazing place in the world. Before you get there however, you must first pass through the Zombie Apocalypse. Miles 22-26. Fucking brutal. Is that man okay? Is that young woman breathing? Keep walking, son. The sheer hell of that place is only matched by the sheer ecstasy of knowing it will all be over soon. Seeing the finish line was one of the happiest moments of my life, such was the primal joy I almost had a prolapse. Everyone deserves to know what that feels like, not just those of us with rectal dysfunctions, everyone. In the end, I’d gone nowhere. I’d waded through the sea of the undead, for what? To get right back where I started. And yet, 5 hours and 17 minutes later, it had somehow transformed into the greatest place on the fucking planet. The beginning, at long last, became The End.
Looking back, I could have said anything. I could have said: “Oh my God!” I could have pulled the ‘O’ face. I could have said: “I did it!” But I didn’t. And what I did say I kept saying over and over again. I shouted it as I crossed the finish line. I said it to my girlfriend. I whispered it to myself on the ferry back to Oakland. Four humble, yet powerful words. The most natural words in my entire vocabulary: “I’m a fucking champion.” I’m. A. Fucking. Champion. The same exact words Super Mario Gotze whispered all the way back to Deutschland. I’m a fucking champion. Only he said it in German: “ICH BIN EIN VERFICKTER MEISTER!” I’m a fucking Meister. Yeah you are. You are the Meister. And here’s the thing. I’m going to keep saying it, forever, ‘cause it’s true. I ran a marathon. I’m a fucking champion.
There you have it. A handful of reasons. Screw bucket lists. Forget health benefits. Don’t do it just to say you did it. Do it for the important reasons. Like drinking beer, and avenging the murder of your imaginary lover. 6 months ago I never thought I’d run a Marathon, I didn’t think I could. I did it for lots of reasons, ultimately, I did it to prove I could. Why not, right? That’s what trouble says. At the end of the day, we’re all capable of more than we imagine. You are. I am. Why not, right? You don’t have to beat a time, you don’t have to change your life. Deciding to run a marathon will do that for you. It’s definitely changed mine.