The Marathon Again: Running Inspired

TEN thousand runners and wheelchairers headed down the seaward marathon course from Hopkinton to Boston again April 20. Ten thousand dreams enacted before hundreds of thousands of spectators, who cheered them on, reaching out with orange slices and cups of water.

Where does the inspiration of running a marathon come from?

Not from the huffing and puffing.

Those who do not prepare with regular runs of at least half the marathon course wash out early, or straggle in.

The marathon is one course with 10,000 races.

The best prepared may not be those with the best times but those whose race plan lasts to the finish.

Again, how does the notion arise to run a marathon?

Are the antecedents in watching the race itself, as do those of us who live in the hamlets like Wellesley that the runners pass through?

Is it in the recurring idea of movement? The body, after all, is built with a running gear, at least for most of us.

Is it the fascination with passing through some sense of barrier - represented by the sheer distance of the marathon, or the physiological "wall" marathoners are reputed to hit at about 20 miles?

The distance can be a measure of debility overcome.

Or just a run.

The first pass by in ecstasy; these are the fleet. Later come the labored, concentrating to keep each body part moving in sequence.

Friends, or buses, collect those who drop out along the way. The exhausted among the finishers are clad in foil envelopes; a colleague observes that they look like Eskimo Pies.

The race is covered on radio and television. Choppers overhead, motorcycles and cameras on the ground. There are the crowd shots. The struggle up Heartbreak Hill in Brookline. The finish dash in the Back Bay business district near our office.

The first few finishers hold their celebrity through the evening news; they will be on next year's video clips; they may go into the sport shoe business.

For the rest the race is simply over; they have to get home directly somehow if they live nearby, or shower and get a night's sleep and fly home the next day if they live at a distance.

A marathon is a long race, but its antecedents start much - even years - earlier.

The training cycle covers months. Some durable idea must sustain the runner through this larger cycle.

A marathon is a metaphor as much as it is a race.

It is a course we elect. Like, today, running for president. No one completes a marathon by draft, or by acclamation.

There are no passive marathons. One does not simply go about his business in the office or classroom and find that, lo and behold, one wins the laurel.

Something agitates in us to choose our races. We may be reluctant runners; we may disapprove of exhibitionism - the running jerseys, the high-tech shoes, and so forth. But our race nags at us. We may be past youth, but age no longer disqualifies.

How do we break away for our running weekend or our outdoor summer or our writing year?

How do we set the regimen for the doctorate in education, or that Harvard Extension School degree?

What is the trajectory of the next phase, the next semester, the big itinerary, the new business plan?

Haven't we done enough already? Can't we rest?

Something pesters us as 10,000 runners pass by.

Inspiration wants to get moving.

Progress is a law, we are reminded.

A litter of paper cups and orange peels traces back to Hopkinton. What made the runners line up, or rather, amass there? What pent up within them for release by the gun?

Ten thousand victories welled up from within the thought of as many competitors and surged. The collective human consciousness was nudged into the spirit of achievement.

So get ready. Next year's Boston marathon will do the same.

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