A marathon is a ridiculous event. Kids dressed as tacos hand out marshmallow gel packets — the precise color and consistency of sperm — to thousands of bib-wearing, Lycra-clad humans hobble-running way farther than their middle-class working-professional bodies want to allow. People vomit and cry and stumble. People shout “YOU’VE GOT THIS BUDDY!” at other people vomiting and crying and stumbling. Spectators clang cowbells and hoist the pixelated faces of their loved ones on sticks. A marathon is a painful enactment of the absurdity of contemporary life, our alienation from physical labor, our hunger for meaning and purpose and community. It is also an excuse to lie flat on one’s back wrapped in a blankie like an infant, weeping in public.
I’ve run four of these. I’ve quit one.
The one I quit was just like any of the others. No 97-degree weather. No rain. No stomach flu or hip injury. It was a perfect fall day. The course was ridiculously flat. There were fireworks at the start and ample and enthusiastic spectators. I’d trained adequately and taken it easy during my last week. I’d mowed down three consecutive dinners of spaghetti. I’d woken up at 5am to choke down a Clif Bar. I’d done everything right.
But I think the idea of quitting must have been in place from the start: not as such, as quitting, but as a why-am-I-still-doing-this philosophical musing. As a repeat conversation with myself: what does it mean to keep doing something difficult and time-consuming when you no longer particularly want to put in the time and energy to improve, when you might not improve at all no matter how hard you work, when it’s clear you’re not going to be exceptional or even that good? What does it mean to end up in the middle of the pack, anonymous, plugging away, just another of Type X? What to do when the shimmering goalposts of yore are now just another line you’ll limp-stumble across saying “YES!” in an unabashedly orgasmic way in public, before getting in your car and driving quietly three hours back home?
I’ve been running since I was eighteen. I started in college, for the fun of it. I loved feeling so in control of my body, so fluid and independent…