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Run For Your Life: Winning your marathon(s)

This is a tale of two marathons. One is a race that you run; the other is the many life challenges you must confront.

Huge differences, yes, yet both require a common strategy. One is a race of 26 miles and 385 yards that a dedicated person with training and planning can do. Marathon races are voluntary, the course set, and the timing exact. You may have never considering running a marathon, but I know you will face marathon challenges in your life.

That other marathon is the turmoil when your life confronts injury, sickness, losses and even pandemics. Both marathons require that you muster the energy to combat the challenge. As one dear Shelter Island neighbor shared with me, you must be so strong to fight cancer. No one can avoid these life tests, but having basic fitness provides you the energy to win.

To succeed in those marathons, you need the same training, performance and energy. If you envy someone’s perfect life, think again. You probably don’t see depression, physical injury, divorce or loss of loved ones. No one lives a life free of these challenges. Unlike a marathon race, you can’t train and plan for their solutions. To get through requires energy, and energy builds from your walking/running fitness program. We can’t predict these life marathons. We can keep our bodies in a state to succeed when challenges come.

The modern Olympic Games began in 1896 in Athens. The games featured a marathon race honoring the original run from Marathon to Athens. The actual distance between these cities was approximately 26 miles. There were no records or eyewitnesses since the race happened two thousand years before the 1896 games. So, with no fixed distance, every marathon was slightly different. In preparation for the 1908 London Games, the British, no surprise, brought order by standardizing the course to exactly 26 miles.

The route went from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium in West London. Then, the enemy of all good planning — a last-minute glitch. The queen and others in the royal party wanted to enhance their view of the finish line. Doing their bidding added 385 yards to the distance, and from that time forward, the distance was fixed.

I’m sure the queen was less than happy when an American won the 1908 race. For you (remaining) “Jeopardy” fans, here’s a question: “What is the only Olympic event not measured in metric units?” Answer: the marathon. The first American marathon adopted the standard distance with a course from Greenwich, Conn. to Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

A marathon race is more than a physical challenge. Many runners turn the effort into a dedication for a cause or a loved one. The ability to look beyond the struggle applies to our other marathons. Humans are goal-minded; once a goal is defined, you’ve made a giant step toward success. A program of training, planning and execution leads to your finish line. And, if you fail, you try again.

The theory is perfect, but you’ll face mood swings, whether in life challenges or long-distance running. For the New York City Marathon, the first two miles are the Verrazano Bridge. Yes, two miles. With the backdrop of New York City and its harbor, the thousands of eager runners, the many media helicopters transmitting the spectacle of tens of thousands on to an amazing international party.

Brooklyn is excited by the large crowds and their creative cheering. The Queensboro bridge regenerates excitement as you loop onto Manhattan’s 1st Avenue. Then, around 20 to 22 miles, you encounter the dreaded “wall.” For me, the wall is a trick that your mind plays.

Passing the 20-mile mark, your goals (like those when fighting cancer or depression) become modest. Just focus on getting to the next block. Struggling along in a trance, putting one foot in front of the other, I convinced myself I must have missed the 21-mile mark. Then, a sad reality, you turn a corner and see “21” signs big as life. Finally, entering Central Park (where I trained) is no picnic. Mild elevations that you never considered even hills loom as mountains given the 24 miles you have covered. Then you spill onto 59th Street, and you are less than a mile from the finish.

It was all worth it.