Accepting the Marathon Challenge

Leave the first response January 26, 2009 / Posted in Mindful Running, Oz On Marathoning

© Austin “Ozzie” Gontang, Ph.D.

I have always known
that at last I would take this road,
but yesterday I didn’t know that
it would be today.


In three words
I can sum up
everything I’ve
learned about life.
It goes on.

Robert Frost

George Sheehan, God bless his soles, knew from experience that we are all called to be athletes, poets, heroes, saints and philosophers. Especially in the marathon is this true.

As we drove to dinner that night after the London Marathon we saw her. Linda had two more miles to go. With her hand braces supporting her, she struggled step after step. As we drove by, she looked up, and our eyes met as I gave her the thumbs up. She smiled. We drove past. I knew, my body knew. I had been touched by this heroine. My body knew her feelings. My body resonated to her challenge and success, and my tears and quiet sobs bound us as one.

The marathoner had been winding me in for the past mile. It was annoying to hear his inane banter. “I haven’t seen the ocean looking so blue in years. It reminds me when we were in Hawaii. Remember all those people cheering us on that last mile. Your smile was so big, I was certain you were going to sprint away from me.” And on and on and on. I was ready to tell the guy to just shut up and run the race, when I saw out of the side of my eye that the blabberer was doing a 3 hour pace marathon monologue so Harry Cordellos next to him could get a picture of the course through his guide’s eyes. Harry as you know is blind. God, even as I write these words about so long ago the emotions and tears are alive in this moment…instant replay.

I came upon him at mile 17. Someone said Dick had started early since he would be out there for a few hours longer than most of us. It was an odd sort of gait. As I ran by and told him “Great going!” I heard his rhythm for about a minute. “Step, shuffle, click; step, shuffle, click.” The shuffle sound was made as he hopped so that the prosthesis of his above the knee amputation could “click” into place for his next step. The rhythm stayed in my mind for several miles. It kept me going.

I visited Tal at Casa Loma just 4 days ago. It was the first sunny day in about two weeks. Tal reminisced about his first marathon at the Avenue of the Giants almost 18 years ago. He was 61 back then. He’s had several strokes in the past 4 years which has made it hard for him to remember. He’s stayed active by walking 4 miles round trip to the top of Mount Soledad. But now his knee has been acting up, and he’s frustrated. Even with all the forgetting, Tal’s recollection of the marathon through the redwoods is crystal clear. It is locked not only in his mind but in his body.

The Marathon is not something that can be bought or sold. One catches the spirit of the Marathon. The Marathon captures the imagination of the individual Across two thousand years, one relives the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. One viscerally experiences the mythic run of an unknown messenger ho announces the victory to the Atheneans. Ten thousand defeated sixty thousand.

Whether one travels the 26.2 miles with 20,000 other runners and walkers or 200; the reality remains the same. No matter how much one is helped in training and preparation,no matter how many people are in the race; the Marathon is ultimately run or walked alone. It is something that inspires the individual. For he or she can now say, “I am a Marathoner.” The interdependence on all those who helped in the marathon still must give way to the conscious awareness: nothing is impossible to she who dreams.

As one marathoner put it: “I have tested myself. I have seen what I can do. I have come up against my own unseen demons, doubts, mentals limitations and negative feelings. I have seen my fantasies, my expectations, my dreams while realizing that I had to be grounded in the only thing I knew for certain: the present. Being in the present, acknowledging the moment, acknowledging my feelings, my fears, my excitement and my connection with the other marathoners gave an entirely new perspective to time, space and movement. I was one with humanity; but remained alone in my thoughts.”

The Marathon is a very personal event which one does publicly. The Marathon is a personal challenge. The Marathon is one of the last personal frontiers, where the individual comes up against the unknown within themselves.

The Marathon tests one’s metal, courage, planning, and self knowledge all at the same time. The Marathon is a challenge which attracts thousands of people each year from all around the world.

One can train and prepare to run a marathon. Real success is taking care of the health of mind, body and spirit while preparing and finally running the marathon. The marathon as metaphor transforms the finisher as someone with a new and different perspective of time, space and personal effort. The real marathon-known as life-takes on a new dimension. One learns what an endurance lifestyle is.The athlete, the hero, the poet, the philosopher and the saint is alive in the individual who accepts the Marathon.

In Memoriam

To Marathoners who have touched my soul and those of countless others

  • Fred Lebow
  • George Sheehan
  • Jeannie Blanco
  • Marian Gallagher
  • Tal Lovelady
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