“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”– Joseph Campbell
The big New York Marathon is over and a good friend of mine ran and finished it. Years ago, my goal was to at least attempt it. Things changed when I ran my first full marathon in Berlin. I have never been super big into running but I did it because it made me feel good afterward. I thought, “I did something for myself!” There are times when I just plod along like a sad turtle but this is fine, too because I will get there, in the end.
When I joined the German Federal Police I thought it is a good idea to stop smoking (kinda was!), get in shape and start to train for a marathon. Initially, I trained on my own with a Runners World Book Guide. This all went pretty well and I thought I am ready for the marathon after my longest training-run of 17k. I signed up for the Berlin Marathon. Of course, I had a big breakfast before; an omelet just because. I was super excited. Months of training will pay off. I was all glucosed up and my mental game was on point.
The big day arrived. I thought about ways to distract myself with my iPod (yes, this marathon was a while ago) and all the gadgets that nobody really needs. I wore extra layers of clothing because it could be cold. I took squeeze power gels and lotions and potions. With a water-bottle-belt and room for energy drinks, I started the 42.195 kilometers. In the beginning, everything was fine. I was super motivated. After about 17K (remember my longest training run?) I didn’t like running that much anymore. But hey, just a couple of kilometers left, I thought. Can’t be that bad. At around 27 kilometers in I started going through the Five Stages of Grief.
Stage 1: Denial. 27 kilometers in. When my world became meaningless and overwhelming. Life made no sense. I was in a state of shock and denial. I almost went numb. I wondered how I could go on if I can go on and why I should go on. I tried to find a way to simply go through this. I guess denial and shock helped me to cope and make the survival of this marathon possible. Isn’t there grace in denial? Isn’t it nature’s natural way of letting in only as much as I can handle? “I am becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade”, I said to myself as I ran on. As I proceeded, more feelings began to surface and I realized that I am talking to myself out loud. Then the cursing started.
Stage 2: Anger. 33 kilometers in. I have to confront my inner demons. I reminded myself: I hate this f**** marathon. Why is it that bad? On my iPod playing: The soundtrack of System of a Down masked my labor-breathing and tricked me into thinking that I can do this. I shouted: “If I’m in need of catharsis, I go for something that will make me Capital F “Feel” good, now “FUCK THIS SHIT”. I wore sunglasses which is always a f***** good idea, should an errant tear or sadness creep in. MY BATTERIES ARE EMPTY ALREADY? But music will get me through this.
Stage 3: Bargaining. 35 kilometers in. I ran along in a daze. Is there a way out of this? Can I pay someone to drag or carry me to the finish line? At this point, the cursing stopped for some time. My thoughts shifted: If there is one thing I hate more than running, it is racing. In bad racing, you do not aim to win. I set out my two goals: 1) Run; 2) Don’t die. When I run a race, I am given a number. I stared at mine and shook my head while I kept running. At this point, I felt like a horse, perhaps, or a very competitive salmon. I am one with the herd, a GPS dot, a mote of dust in the grand scheme of things. But I am a glorious mote. And that is everything. Did I hallucinate? I realized that I said all this out loud when I got passed by someone who was around 80 years old. Maybe it was a child, I didn’t have my damn glasses. It did not matter.
Stage 4: Depression. 37 kilometers in. I screamed again and cursed: “I am going to die. Why am I doing this? My thighs are raw and I think all of my toenails fell off. What else could possibly go f***** wrong? Oh, everything!” I hit rock bottom. I had never been so tired in my entire life. Even my teeth were tired. “STOP PASSING ME, YOU JERKS!” I am full of empty feelings and grief entered my life. I felt like crying. “I AM SO DONE WITH THIS! I WANT TO SNAP OUT OF THIS! I AM SOOOOOOO SAD! Everyone had to know this and be sad with me so I made sure I was extra loud expressing my anger. There was this 80-year-old someone again. He told me to remove all my gadgets and I will feel better. He added: “I regret to inform you that your petition to die has been denied. There is no such thing as a bad runner.” He seemed to know what he was talking about.
Stage 5: Acceptance. 40 kilometers in. Final stage. I told myself all the affirmations I know. I accepted the situation. Conversation with myself again: “Time to dig deep. Remember that runner who finished a marathon with a broken leg? Pffff, this is nothing. If he can do it, so can I. To finish this marathon is the goal. I will live with all these blisters, and pain in my body for another 2 kilometers. I changed, I grew, I evolved”. I threw away my iPod and all the spare batteries – just because. I felt light(er) instantly. I was okay with all this now while I shuffled along. There was a tiny light at the end of the tunnel. “Btw, where is everybody? Am I still on course? I guess it is just me and myself and the road”.
At some point, I stumbled across the finish line, where I had been decorated in a crinkly foil cape and a medal. I felt so awesome and strutted about (everyone always struts) even though I limped and felt like an aluminum-wrapped rotisserie chicken. Would I run a full marathon again? NEVER, half is okay, though. But looking back, I am pretty proud of myself. Also, nipple chafing is real. Use tape.
As Haruki Murakami puts it, “When running I don’t have to talk to anybody and I don’t have to listen to anybody… All I do is keep on running on my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing.”
Dedicated to K.L. “the truffle shuffle”.