What drives people to brink of exhaustion and to push their bodies too far? You heard about the teenager from Fresno, California whose body hit the wall with only 30 meters to go. Her muscles were systematically giving up on her and everyone watched her barely crawl across the finish line. For other examples of extreme finish line crossings, Google the names of amazing athletes Paula Radcliffe or Uta Pippig.
The Houston Press blog did a great job summarizing the less than glamorous side of the sport. Muscle cramping, uncontrollable digestive fluctuations from either end, bleeding nipples, blistered feet, toenail issues, chaffing… should I go on? (I am completely aware that this is not exactly a dinner conversation.)
Why do people keep running when they clearly should stop? AND why do spectators cheer and praise these athletes as they stumble, crash, fall, crawl, roll, and puke across the finish lines?
I thought these people were crazy too until I found myself beginning to identify with them on the smallest of levels. I consider myself to be an active person who enjoys endurance sports for recreational purposes only; unlike the elite professionals or trainers who run for a living. Their explanations may make more sense or less sense depending on how many people can identify with their madness.
I had an epiphany when I attempted to put myself in their shoes last Friday when I had a scare with a baker’s cyst behind my right knee. (Don’t laugh!) Now, I know that a baker’s cyst is not the end of the world and will heal but the prospect of having to take a week or two off when all I wanted to do was hike and run was a very uncomfortable notion. Because I felt that much fear from the prospect of possibly needing only a short period of rest (which is NOTHING compared to injuries experienced by many other people), I realized that I am truly hooked…
First imagine being someone who is planning to finish their first marathon…(Note that this is all speculation because I have yet to run a full marathon)
You have been averaging 40 to 60 miles every week for five months. You have finished a handful of half marathons and feel like you have those down. Your shoes are broken in, your clothes are unrestricting, and you are wearing your lucky headband. Goal pace – check! Pre-hydration – check! Carb load – check! Warm up – check! You’ve laid off the broccoli and Chinese take-out for so long that your taste buds forgot the pleasure.
Now, it’s race day and the horn blows. The corral is packed and you start out at a walk which antagonizes your excitement. After a few minutes, the runners begin to spread out and you are able to meet up with your pacekeeper. You impress yourself by how fast you cross the halfway point and you feel confident. And then something begins to happen at mile 18 when your legs are feeling heavier than ever, your back is sore, your throat stays dry despite the frequent water station visits, and your lungs ache. You push through it knowing that this will soon be over. It becomes intolerable as you cross into the 24 mile point. The pacekeeper is long gone and there is so much distance behind you. You can’t stop now or else all of your training and preparation would be for nothing, the 24 miles done would have been run in vain, and defeat (being a 6 letter word) is worse than any four letter word. With 25.6 miles behind you and a half mile to go, your stomach is fighting the urge to let loose. You are basically there! There is no point in stopping! The spectators on either side of you are screaming your bib number and saying, “You got this! You’re almost there!” The cheers are overwhelming! You know that if a gorilla made a baby with a duck, it would be running a lot like you are at that moment and you don’t care. The finish line is in sight. Just a few more seconds! You take those final three steps and are taken over by every good and bad feeling in the world! (and then your stomach loses its fight with gravity and you think that you are never going to do another marathon in your entire life)
Now imagine being an elite runner that is actually in line to win a marathon. With tens of thousands of runners behind them, it is amazing what these runners accept as better alternatives to stopping. I am having a continuous “Would you rather…” game in head because I honestly don’t know what choice I would make if I were faced with their situations. All I know is that less painful relay races such as the Reach the Beach are looking better and better every day!
– Michele, NH State Park Blogger