This entry is a little rage-y and a little bitter, but I don’t feel like crafting a consumer-safe container for it. You’ve been warned.
I swear that it seems like everybody I know on planet earth can run a marathon. My Facebook feed is filling up with people running marathons. These people did not USED to run marathons, but they run marathons now. Perhaps many of them jogged always, and as they got older realized it takes them twice the time and distance to work off that bag of chips than it did five years ago, and a marathon is what you get to. The Oatmeal put up a long introspection on why he runs. I am sometimes interested in what makes runners tick, but not usually. I think I’ve heard every reason there is, including:
1.) For my health/lose weight
2.) In solidarity with ….
3.) To see if I could.
4.) For ‘me’ time
I get it.
However, the thing I never fail to get inwardly annoyed at is how, if the number of people who ran their first marathon in the last two years is X, then the number of them who also say “If I can do it, anybody can” is X/2. I have something to say to those people, and I hope that they interpret it in the kindest way possible.
Please shut the fuck up and accept that you are awesome.
Stephen Hawking cannot run a marathon. Rick Hoyt can do a marathon, but only because his unbelievably awesome dad carried him the whole way. Oprah Winfrey cannot run a marathon, for various reasons, but mainly because she would want cameras on her the whole way, and the camera operators wouldn’t put up with the running 26.2 miles backward so they can focus in on her face.
If everybody could do it, more people would. It wouldn’t find itself on lists of “the hardest things to accomplish in athletics” along with throwing 90 mph fastballs or hitting a golf ball 300 yards or whatever. Getting up in the middle of the night and going to the bathroom before wetting the bed is something pretty much everybody can do that requires some physical conditioning. You’ll notice that’s not on any of those lists. We live in a world where everybody thinks they’re good enough for American Idol, where everybody thinks they’re smarter than average, where everybody thinks they deserve to be famous, and where everybody thinks their kid is the smartest, most gifted kid in the world. But then when someone does something truly exceptional they downplay it and say everybody can do it.
I know why of course — it’s because admitting the truth makes you sound like an asshole. You don’t want to say “well, I get that most people here won’t ever be able to do this…”. But this backhanded humility actually makes a lot of people sound like CONTEMPTUOUS assholes. I get drawn into a lot of social justice discussions, and it doesn’t take long before somebody says something like
- “I paid for college by taking a full load of classes and working two jobs, and I graduated with honors!”
- “My parents raised a family of seven on a teacher’s salary. We made our own clothes, grew our own food, and walked everywhere.”
- “I worked an 80-hour week and still was there to help my kids with their homework and tuck them in bed.”
Which is great. You are amazing, and a paragon of perseverance. I am not being sarcastic. Hard workers deserve praise for hard work. However, these comments are usually followed soon after with
- “Why are these kids taking out all these student loans? And for what – to take Women’s Studies?! Yeah, that’ll really help the economy.”
- “These people leaning on food stamps are just lazy.”
- “These parents just don’t want to be there for their kids. They’re so selfish. It’s not about them.”
Not realizing that some people make amazing efforts, amazing sacrifices, or showed amazing dedication not only downplays a worthy achievement, but begins to make a person rapidly lose empathy for other people. Thinking that everyone could do it often goes hand in hand with thinking that everyone should do it. And if everyone should do it and they don’t, well, they must want to be fat. Or lazy. Or poor. Or stupid. Or homeless. Or an addict. Or divorced. Or whatever.
So back to marathons.
I am in pain all the time. If I put too much weight squarely on my right foot (like doing tree pose in yoga), my right foot is racked with pain shooting along its fallen arch. When I come down hard on my left foot, as I would in running, the pain snaps out from my hip either around my back, up my spine, or down my leg. Sometimes all three. I recognize that I have bad posture, and I’m working on it. I recognize that I need stronger muscles and joints, and I’m working on it. I recognize that I am bearing too much weight, and I mumble mumble mumble it. But the idea of jogging or running, feeling the pain in all of my joints, the seizing agony across my chest and other muscles, the sensation of my body’s excess bulk slapping and slamming against me in a slick, sweaty weeping as I move — I see this as one of the lower rings of hell. I’ve tried taking it up several times and have always come to the same conclusion: “This is like pouring lemon juice on an open wound. Why in the hell am I doing this?” And without an answer to that question, NO — not just anyone can do it. Because I need a damn good reason, and haven’t found it yet, yours isn’t enough for me.
But here is the thing, you runners, or anyone who’s every experimented with running (say, back in the crazy 60s or whatever)… You know that sensation you get where every part of your body is in rebellion against you so badly that it seems that time itself has slowed down to mock you? Where everything hurts and all you can do is just make yourself put that next foot down and that’s all you can worry about?
That is what I feel like pretty much every day of my life. Whereas other people can have “great days,” or even “great weeks,” (which is a concept whose actual reality I put right up there with yetis riding on the backs of unicorns), I only get these brief flares of comfortableness. Moments where I can take a deep breath or sit outside with a beer and my head doesn’t hurt, my back doesn’t hurt, and I don’t have vicious little fucktards running about in my brain telling me that it would be so easy to walk down the hill to the tracks and shake hands with a friendly oncoming train. My life feels like a marathon, and those moments are like those tiny paper cups of water that people hand you, that keep you able to move forward and not just sit down on the curb and never get up again.
I remember talking about this one time at a parents group, about how staying home with my kids seems to rapidly flip sometimes between their being giant glasses of cold water on my marathon to being a cup of hot sand, and that sand is filled with fire ants and scorpions.
One of the moms asked, “So, like, how much do you think about suicide?”
And I said, “What do you mean? Like how many times a day? Or like how many hours?”
She nearly coughed up her iced tea.
Sometimes in the paper I will read an obituary that begins “John/Jane Doe lost his/her battle with depression on…” If I die naturally (say…March 14, 2054…) be it heart attack, cancer, stroke, car accident (a true accident) or even just being crushed by a meteorite, I want my obituary to read “Jason Glaser won his battle with depression on March 14, 2054.” Because that is what my death will mean in that case; that something else got me. That after a lifetime marathon of forcing one foot to move in front of the other day after day and humming out the part of me that wants to brush my teeth with a shotgun, I crossed the finish line — the full length of my life as it played out in this world. I want people to celebrate with cake and pie and punch and ice cream and slap a square sheet of paper up on the wall next to my picture bearing my number 24 and my completion time: ____ years, ______ months, _______ days. I want people to drink champagne and hug each other like their team won the Super Bowl.
Because as runners will tell you, completing a marathon is one of the best feelings in the world.