Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chicago Marathon

They’ve made it a family affair, enlisting mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and friends for the babysitting. Something of a public affair, too, with the occasional blog detailing this or that aspect of the training; public, as well, in that people at their work places know about the project – this systematic, intense, disciplined, and so terribly lonely preparation for running in the Chicago Marathon.

Many, thus, are involved, and they train together this husband and wife team. It’s not only the running, either, but long hours spent in workouts at the Y (children usually with them for this, since the Y has a fine child care center) since it’s not just the feet or legs that take you this distance, but the whole unit.

They both, of course, look marvelously healthy – a man and woman in their thirties – because they are marvelously healthy. They’ve laid the groundwork, too, for healthy aging with veins and arteries you could roll a bowling ball through (well, it’s a fun metaphor). Nature, perverse nature, may well reward all this work with all manner of nastiness, but the truth is that that prospect is unlikely. Endless studies show that youthful fitness gives the odds heavily to mature fitness and lowers the chances of all those things they try to sell you drugs for on the evening news.

But I mentioned above that “so terribly lonely preparation.” How so with so many people involved – cheerleaders all? How so when the two of them, not only fiercely competitive with each other, but powerhouses of support for each other during hard times, too, are rarely apart and virtually never apart in this training?

That loneliness is in the mind, Jack. The one in you. That’s all. The one you share with no one. The mind knows best. The mind feels pain and says stop, feels weariness and says rest. The mind says if you want to go twenty-six miles take the goddamn car. The mind will research and lay out the training program and then tell you it’s all too hard. The mind says you could be damaging yourself. The mind is the wettest, heaviest wet blanket there is, but it cannot be ignored.

Perversely, it can be turned against itself. It can be told that it wants this ordeal and that it will succeed at it. It can be shown that there is no greater competitor than the self in contest with itself – a horribly lonely contest where the crowds cheer both sides: failure is agony; failure is peace, relief, comfort.

No one else but you can persuade this sparring partner, this demon of the spirit, the soul, the heart, that you’re both on the same side, you both want to win, and when you do manage to persuade it your persuasion is always written in pencil with a shakey hand. Demon says Okay and then Maybe not. Demon says it on hot days and cool days, dry days and wet days. Demon says Maybe not when you feel like you could climb Mount Everest before lunch, and Demon says Okay on days when you could just roll over in bed and die. Demon says it at the beginning of a run and Demon will say it at the end. Now and then, of course, Demon will say Not bad and that’s a good day.

So you get by with a little help from your friends, but overcoming that enemy within is the toughest battle of all, and in winning it you’ll taste the sweetest of all victories.

They’re running this weekend, my son, Wester, and daughter-in-law, Jen, and my admiration is absolutely boundless