I was at a recycling station earlier this week, dropping off stuff from working Zero Waste at the Ann Arbor Marathon. A woman there noticed the stickers on my Jeep’s hatch and beckoned to me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Did you really run a hundred miles?”
I confirmed I had – several, in fact – and wasn’t cured yet. “Wow, that’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve done a 26.2, but never a hundred miles.” I assured her that a marathon was also a great accomplishment. Even with the explosion in marathon finishers in recent years, they still represent less than one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. population.
That stat is hard to put into context when you’re at a major marathon like Boston or Chicago, toeing the line with tens of thousands of others. I mention those two specifically because I’ve been there. The 2011 Chicago Marathon, ten years ago this month, was my first one and trust me, I didn’t feel at all special. I was one guy in the middle of a sea of humanity, most with probably far more miles under their belts.
But, as I came to learn, that doesn’t matter with marathons and ultras. For the 26.2, 100, and longer distances, the real competition is not with other runners but against yourself. It’s a test of what you are, or, more accurately, what you think you are, and a challenge to use that hard-earned knowledge to make yourself better, not just as a runner, but as a person.
My first marathon showed me that not only could I complete that distance, perhaps I was capable of more. The following year I ran my first 50K (at age 50), and things spiraled rapidly downhill from there. I have since run more marathons (although half of them are on trail), but over three times as many ultras, including three of the aforementioned 100-milers and a 150-miler. And, as I said, I’m not cured yet. I’m not sure a cure is even possible.
As for personal improvement, as I’ve written about before, I’ve become more patient and tolerant of situations I don’t like but are outside my control to change. And small annoyances are more easily put in perspective. While I’m far from perfect here, given my current family situation I’m glad to have at least improved somewhat. The reduction in my overall life stress has been much needed.
So, looking back on ten years of long distance running, I’m grateful on many levels. It’s kept me physically in shape, improved my self-discipline and stress management, and brought me new friends and new experiences. In a way, I’m feeling sorry for the over 99 percent of the U.S. population who haven’t run long distance. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re at all daydreaming or seriously considering it, you have my full enthusiasm and support. Get out there!