It is hell. It is glory. It is pure torture and yet, the ultimate achievement. It all started with death, a celebrated death.
According to legend, in 490 B.C. when the Greeks defeated the Persians in a certain battle, a messenger by the name of Pheidippides was needed to spread the news of the triumph. That night the messenger left the battle grounds and headed for his home city. He ran a total of 26.2 miles back to Athens, but was close to death when he arrived. In his last gasping breath he declared, “Victory!” right before he perished.
The battlegrounds that he started from just happened to be named Marathon, Greece.
I regard the marathon just as mythical as the story of its origin portrays it to be. Of course, mine was in Austin, Texas and not a city from ancient times.
Now that I think about it, I imagine he ran it either barefoot, or in some kind of sandals and a robe. I on the other hand was properly equipped.
The runners seemed to have come from out of the woodwork on that fateful Sunday morning. As we walked outside in the dark and chilly city, so did 5,000 or so other combatants, prepared to go to war against the streets of Austin, against the race clock, but not against each other.
Unlike any other sport in existence, marathoners are soldiers on the same side, fighting fatigue. We are never out to get each other, but rather to help one another out and lift spirits when a fellow soldier is down and out.
With the sound of a canon, and a beautiful array of fireworks, the great race began. My partner and I ran as the sun rose, to the sounds of Austin-inspired music. We both felt incredible as we finished the first half of the run with ease, already planning out right ahead and even possible future marathons.
What a big mistake.
Although I already had one under my belt, the absolute worst thing to do is go in being overly confident. This time around the main thing I learned is that just when you are feeling good enough to break pace and go find the Kenyans, you hit what is so commonly known as “the wall.” This wall I speak of cannot be explained in words alone, for it is a state of mind and one that I really don’t want to discuss. I suppose you could say it feels like someone poured cement in your shoes and tied a bus to your back, expecting you to pull the weight.
Pulling out of such a feeling and finishing the race is something that one really cannot do alone. I have to admit that I could not have finished the race had it not been for the generosity of the people on the streets, going hoarse while cheering us on.
But even with the people of Austin behind me, during miles 20 through 24 the emergency medical tents were looking awfully inviting. I mean, it dangles the mile marker signs in front of you just like those cartoons with people running for the Twinkies on a string that they’ll never catch.
And just when you think you have a good hold on it, it moves them further… and further and further apart.
And then it just laughs in your face.
When the windy suburban streets finally revealed the skyline of the city, I was determined to cross that finish line. As we made it through the final stretch, and our friends and family were right on the sidelines cheering us on, we crossed the finish at a speed we no longer thought we could reach. I was in a trance. As soon as I finished and I heard the announcer yell, “Nicholas Pitts from New Jersey!” I realized that I won my battle, but at the same time, I had nothing but respect for the route that I barely made it through.
I have decided that this may be the best love-hate relationship I’ll ever have. It is the ultimate emotional rollercoaster. I went from belated, to nervous, back to confident, to weary and finally, totally wiped out but so proud at the same time.
Just incase anyone wondered just what it was like to finally cross that finish line, imagine being hit by an 18-wheeler truck, then getting up and walking away from what should have been catastrophic, with just a slight limp.
As I sit on my Philly bound flight, wanting nothing more than to just, bend my legs because they still hurt, I think about the question that everyone asked me upon finishing. Will I do another one? Just for the sake of a good story, I’ll give you all my usual answer: Ask me that again when I can walk without hobbling.