Inspiration Via Lowered Expectations

Last year I accomplished a life goal – I completed a marathon. I did it twice, actually. Now, I wasn’t speedy about it. My plan to qualify for the Boston Marathon is to keep running until I’m very, very old and hope that the standards don’t get any higher. But at least for me, the point is that I did it and while it wasn’t easy, running 26.2 miles was far from impossible. With the right amount of training and the mental discipline to just not stop, you too can run a marathon.

However if you have not yet done this, even if you’re a runner, and a fast runner at that, a marathon can appear to be a pie-in-the-sky goal. I think I felt this way before I finished one, but I tend to forget that I ever felt this way. Earlier this year after I picked up my race number and t-shirt for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, I wondered around the expo that fills the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Amongst the race tables, there was a booth taking registrations for the National Race for the Cure, which benefits the Komen Foundation. I typically try to make this race, despite the fact that I’m not crazy about shorter distances and this one tends to be crowded with walkers, and strollers, and dogs. But all that dodging does give me a great excuse for a slow time, so I walked over to the booth and began filling out a registration.

As I was filling out the paper work, I began to listen to the conversation between the woman behind the table, who appeared to be in her late 20s,  and an older male volunteer soliciting registrants for the 5K. “You’d have to be fit, really fit to do that,” I heard the man say. “Oh, I know. I can’t imagine,” the woman replied. “I’d like to try it though, one day…” the man responded as he nodded his head, a determined look on his face. The man looked to be in his mid-50s, and very lean and fit. I sneaked a glance at the deep cut of his calf muscles exposed by his running shorts. I felt out of place, between this obviously very in-shape man and a woman several years my junior, at least 15 pound lighter, and inches taller than myself.

As she and the man continued to talk about marathon running I continued to fill out the race registration form and tried to decide whether or not to reveal myself as a completer of said impossibility. Just by looking at these two individuals, I was pretty sure that either one of them could beat any of my times from any race with ease. I felt even more conspicuous as they began talking about how fit someone would have to be to run a marathon. I tried to listen more closely, because maybe they meant race a marathon, which is a decidedly different thing than just running to finish. “Well, I’d like to just finish one!” the man laughed as he paced back and forth in front of the booth, his quads flexing with every step.

No longer able to help myself I piped up, “I actually ran two marathons last year. I think you should go for it,” I said addressing the man as he paced back in my direction. “Really?” he asked. I could feel the two of them assessing my body in the same way I had theirs only moments before. I felt their eyes on my thick frame and short legs. I was totally blowing their mental image of what a marathon runner looked like. I saw the woman’s eyes widen involuntarily in surprise. “How was it?” “Well a lot of it is mental,” I said. “I mean you follow your training plan, hope you don’t get hurt, and on race day you just keep going until you get to the finish.” The man laughed at my description.

I signed the registration and put my credit card back in my wallet, thanking the woman as she handed me my copy of the registration. I didn’t know whether to be proud of myself or ashamed to be able to run a marathon and still not look particularly fit. But I did kind of hope that if visible fitness had been a barrier for either of these potential marathon runners, it would no longer serve as an excuse to not take on the challenge.

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2 comments
  1. Andrew said:

    I liked this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love that ultrarunners look so “normal”. Most of them are older guys who look like a healthy guy off the street. Then they slowly and steadily kick my ass!

    It kills me that people who have everything going for them (good health, genetic predisposition) cut themselves short and don’t try to reach their potential! I’ve got chronic illnesses and I’m short and stumpy and have to bust my butt to do what I can do, which is usually a DNF.

    I wish everyone would at least TRY to be all they can be. Imagine what a wonderful world this would be if that were the case!

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