Hard to believe but here we are with the first month of 2015 almost in the books. Seems like just yesterday we were sweating and stressing over the holidays and if you’re like me, counting the days until spring officially arrives. As is typical with this time of year, the diet plans, new exercise programs, newest and latest exercise equipment, and panacea in a bottle ads flood the landscape as millions resolve to make a new start in the New Year. Unfortunately, the majority will be at it again this same time next year as they were the year before that and the year before that. Fitness for many seems like an endless cycle – one that begins but never really ends only to start all over again. I have good news for you. Fitness isn’t an endless cycle and doesn’t fail you. It comes down to a decision to go on a journey where the reward is far greater than the alternative. The question is, do you have the resolve to pursue the journey and weather it through all the thick and thin. I want to share with you today a small journey I entered into myself last year – my second, and final marathon. I’m not suggesting you need to run a marathon; I just want to present to you the parallels that a marathon and any fitness journey have.
My Journey to 26.2 – Part 2
Back in October 2014, I ran in the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, in Washington D.C. It wasn’t that I was a glutton for punishment and just loved my first marathon so much that I couldn’t wait to do another. Back when I had it in my head that someday I would run a marathon, this was the one I had in mind. The timing and scheduling just didn’t work for 2013 so I ran in the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach of March that year to celebrate in a way of turning 40. But there was something about participating in one of the largest marathons in the country, in our nation’s capital, and hosted by the Marines that just never left my belly. As fate would have it, 2014 marked the first year that entrance to the Marine Corps Marathon was by way of lottery and tah dah, I had won a spot. But unlike my first marathon where I only focused on the run – not really taking the whole event in – I had made a promise to myself that I was going to take in as much of this experience as I could. I was not disappointed.
In the true pageantry that only the Marine Corps could provide, my 2nd marathon was more an emotional and spiritual journey than it was physical. Sure, I prepared for the run as I had in the past, even better this time, but there was no goal except to simply absorb and digest the whole experience. It all began with observing the ritual and process of soldiers raising the flag just as the sun is rising. You stop everything you are doing and pause in silence as the stars and stripes are raised to salute another day. As I lined up with the other 30,000 runners, the ceremonial flag for the start of the race was brought in by a paratrooper group – right over our heads. Most races start with a simple horn or siren but this race was kicked off by the firing of a howitzer. It was then that I realized this race was going to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. And it was.
With the exception of very few spots in which it would have been difficult for spectators to navigate, the entire 26.2 mile course was lined with people – on both sides of the course. Men; women; children; soldiers; veterans; tourists, and spectators – it was surreal. Their energy and enthusiasm fueled me and every chance I had gave them high fives. The Marines by far were the most encouraging. They manned water and fueling stations, cheered us all on, and encouraged us through every mile. There were troops in full gear, carrying flags and chanting cadence while running. Then there was the splendor of our nation’s capital – the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial; the throngs of tourists along the Mall; running around the Washington Monument, past the Smithsonian museums, and of course running directly in front of the Capitol Building.
At some point near mile 13, I forgot about where I was and what I was doing because I ran through a flag lined tunnel held by a group that remembers and honors the fallen in combat. It was then that I really began to see how insignificant the pain or suffering I was experiencing was. As the race drew closer to an end, the crowds got even bigger and the excitement of crossing the finish line grew even greater. As I ran past the Pentagon where we had started over four hours earlier, I started to dwell on what I had all witnessed and experienced and I hadn’t even crossed the finish line yet. Upon approaching the finish line area, the crowd energy was at its highest at any portion of the course. Marines lined both sides of the 40 or so yard hill that climbed to the final 40 or so yard finish straight away to the finish line. Through the tunnel of Marines and crowd grandstands I somehow found the strength to finish running despite wanting to just walk in. There in the shadow of the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington Cemetery, I had crossed the finish line of the most amazing journey of my life. After receiving my medal I had a picture taken with the Marine who gave me my hardware. He was easily 20 years or so younger than me but at that moment in time, he was the elder. My run, pain and subsequent stiffening were nothing compared to the journey this young man had come or could travel.
Why tell you my story? For one, I am very proud to share it with you. But most importantly, I want to share and instill with all of those willing to listen that fitness is a journey, not a road trip or long weekend. It will have its ups and downs and if you stay with it, the ups will most certainly outnumber the downs. It will challenge you and test your perseverance but in the end the journey is worth it – daily, weekly, monthy, yearly. Your fitness journey should be unique to you and only you and not compared to or measured against what others do or say. I ran with 30,000 other runners; all with their own journey, goals, and visions in mind. In the end, we all accomplished the goal of finishing the race, all deserving of wearing the medal. That is where the only comparison should be drawn. Plan your journey for 2015 so that it doesn’t end like in years past. Be one of the few and the proud.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.