Chances are if you’ve ever run on a treadmill at the gym you’ve thought about maxing the machine out. Most machines will top out propelling their rider forward at a brisk 12 miles per hour, or five minutes per mile. If you’re at a higher-end gym with top-of-the-line equipment, you may be able to touch 12.5 miles per hour while riding the belt of your treadmill. At this speed you would cover one mile every 4 minutes and 48 seconds. Fast right? Now, consider another number.
As in 12.8 miles per hour, or 4:42 per mile. That is the speed at which Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang ran for 26.2 miles this past Sunday at the Berlin Marathon in which he set a new world record, shattering the record of countryman Patrick Makau by 15 seconds. Kipsang’s victory was not just a personal victory over an elite field, or a defeat of the clock. It was a victory for the entire human race.
What I find so special about track and field world records is that they are the truest measure of the capabilities of our human bodies. Each time a new record is set, humanity as a whole is tasked with setting our sights higher, becoming faster. Track and field is a raw sport, perhaps the rawest outside of wrestling. It is a competition of one body against another to see who is fittest. It is through these competitions that we are able to truly see the incredible feats our bodies were made to accomplish.
We are certainly all not made to run marathons like Wilson Kipsang. He was truly put on this earth to run, and run fast. With his fluted calves, long legs that taper to almost nothing at the ankle, and flowing gait, it is no wonder he achieved what he did. I will never run faster than Kipsang, and few will, but watching him race is a rare chance to understand what it is to witness the best of ourselves.
Running a marathon is not easy. Many who set out to finish a marathon never do. I have had a long running career, and am only just now beginning to run marathons after finishing college. I have learned more about myself through my marathon training and racing than in almost any other aspect of life. Marathons give you strength and an incredible feeling of achievement when crossing the finish. You train for months, constantly pushing the limits of what you thought possible. Gradually seeing yourself grow stronger is almost as much of a reward as the finishers medal. Marathons also take you to dark places within yourself; places where you feel ready to despair and give up, ending the race before the finish line and crawling home with your tail between your legs. In life, as in racing, you can never give up, even if two hours into the race, with your body depleted of glycogen, you feel the edges of your vision beginning to darken or your calves become so cramped that every several minutes of running requires equal time spent walking. You can train for months and awake the morning of your race to face a torrential downpour and gusting winds. What will you do?
The answer must always be keep running. Put one foot in front of the other, over and over again until you reach your goals. Running is not always a pretty sport; it is not always a fun sport. Sometimes it flat out sucks. So does life.
Running, especially marathon-ing, has taught me so much about life (all those miserable events described in the previous paragraph have actually happened to me). Training and racing has given me an incredible understanding of what can be achieved through hard work, an understanding that has helped me in all other phases of my life. It is no stretch to say that if you set a reasonable goal and train properly, you will eventually achieve it.
A marathon is a test of more than the human body. It is also a test of the human spirit. It is a chance to show determination and perseverance. When I go to a marathon or any other race, I make it a point to watch and cheer for as many finishers as I can. I am always so touched by the pure joy on people’s faces as they cross the finish line. Whether you have run 2:03 like Wilson Kipsang, 2:22 like myself, or 4:00, you have truly accomplished something special.
Something special happened this weekend when the clock was stopped on 2:03:23, but something special happens every time someone crosses the finish line of a marathon. Never be afraid to start the race.