162 Monday Musings: Zen Marathonism
I had always considered running a pretty boring pursuit, an effort so needlessly undertaken, the meaningless huffing and puffing, a voluntary but punishing load on the lung and the limb putting your own balance of mind under a shadow of doubt. That was many Monday's ago. I ran my fifth half marathon today and its a significant personal milestone in two ways. One its a personal best timing but more importantly this was the first time that i did not stop even once in the course of 21kms - and therein hangs my musing.
James Mallory, an ace mountaineer and according to some hypothesis, 'possibly' the first person to scale the Mount Everest (for more on that read 'Paths of Glory' by Jeffery Archer), in response to a question in 1922 as to why do they climb peaks said so eloquently and poetically ".......So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for" Marathoning is pretty much like this - sheer joy, pure, unadulterated, sublime, uplifting! It teaches you so much and reminds you much more.
It teaches you that nothing worthwhile can come without toil, hours and hours of mind numbing practice, even when no perceptible improvement is visible; tending to the garden with sage like calm even when green shoots are nowhere to be seen. It teaches you that every kilometer that passes under your feet takes everything in you, every milestone will extract its pound of flesh - letting you have nothing for free. It teaches you that every subsequent kilometer will appear longer than the last one, and will challenge you harder, forcing you to access the last ounce of your willpower and resolve - and you almost hear yourself torn between the pain and purpose - pain screaming that you are done with it and purpose egging you to stay on course just a little while longer. It has taken me five runs and close to two years to let purpose win over pain. Marathons teach you patience and perseverance more than anything else - for a long run will not cede anything to the runner with ease. It teaches you to be humble - not to take yourself and your abilities too seriously - for there is always a challenge in life that is larger than us.
Marathon remind you much more. It reminds you of your limitations more than anything else. It reminds you that at the end you are human. It reminds you that even in completion, the run is larger than the runner, that completing it only makes you miss the run even more badly. The runner is sandwiched between the agonizing wait for the run and the immediate vacuum it leaves as soon as it finished - the 'communion' lasts only for the duration of the run. Marathon reminds you that the truest victory is victory over yourself and your limitations. It reminds you that there always is a challenge out there that is just outside your reach, and in trying to surmount it, the best and the worst in you reveals itself. Marathons force you to deal with your incompleteness, the rough edges and the dignity (or the lack of it) with which you deal with them reveals your character.
I have understood myself better through my tryst and trials with marathons and so would you, should you chose to.