What Marathons Teach Us About Life

What Marathons Teach Us About Life


The marathon is a harsh teacher, dishing out those vital life lessons we still need to learn.

Your result tells a story. Everything—your training, race strategy, pain tolerance, the weather—distils into that neon number ticking away as you cross the finish line. For some, it signifies absolute joy, others disappointment. Regardless, a curious phenomenon kicks in shortly after completing a marathon. Everyone second guesses their result, believing their posted time does not accurately reflect their true potential. If only I had…

As for me, I got the time I deserved, melting across the line in 03 hours 40 minutes 08 seconds, good for 812th overall (just off the podium), 100th for my age group, and a respectable third among the Dustins. WTF? That’s fantastic. It is not. 

For background, last December, a friend asked me to race the 2022 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Barely running and twelve years out from my last one, I stupidly agreed. Further, I then ignored Haruki Murakami's fundamental truth from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Paraphrased with eloquence, DO NOT half-ass marathon training.

I half-assed marathon training.

The Body Comes Around, Eventually 

No matter how I spin it, what I’m about to say will not sound good. From the get-go, I dared myself to race under-prepared, mainly to see if I could do it. Dude, you disrespect the marathon (and Murakami). Quite the opposite actually.

To be fair, I’m lucky. Running comes easy. My body naturally falls into the gentle rhythm needed to cover longer distances somewhat quickly. However, going in, I had zero motivation to train. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t completely sedentary, but my love for running had evaporated. Yet, at some level, I knew I could pretty much show up, and likely even squeak in under four hours. Tough for sure, but doable. 

And I did train, sometimes hard and fast even, just not enough. For anything less than 60 minutes, my body and mind would temporarily suspend their differences and get it done. Longer, and I padded my workouts with other endurance pursuits like sweeping the deck or arranging furniture. Seriously, the reality is not far off. I was bummed out. 

I blew off my 18 miler along with other ‘key’ sessions. The joy wasn’t coming back. Finally, three weeks out from race day my body said ‘hey, this isn’t bad. Let’s go.’ About time.  

Slow Down Loser

Race day started out swimmingly. Amidst a sea of beautiful, sculpted legs in the start corral, I’m tucked between the 3:15 and 3:30 pace bunnies. Remember that detail. Off I go, burning matches like a fool, swept up in the collective swirl of thousands of lunatics chasing marathon glory. Yet my mind—always the wet blanket—screamed: Slow the F%&k Down. Hell no, I shouted back, only losers go slow.

Thirty kilometres in, my early bravado looked pretty good, on pace for a 3:23 finish. Then I hit the wall. Notorious among marathoners, the 30km mark is when your proverbial wheels fall off. No one is spared. It’s bizarre. Without warning your entire body quits working, but stubbornly continues to trudge forward. For instance, video evidence at 6km shows me smiling and keeping pace. Photos along the back twelve see me crushed me into the pavement.

Elvis Saves

I must address the elephant in the room: my deliberate lack of training. Here’s the screwed up/not screwed up explanation. I wanted the race to be as difficult as possible. I was curious. At the point of maximum anguish, would I quit or carry on? It’s a risky experiment and not recommended for obvious reasons. 

The reality is, nobody cares. Even those who really love me, could care less about my time, my training, or if I finished the thing. But I do. Not quitting, it seems, is more important to me than massaging my tattered ego and cramped legs. Don’t get me wrong, I was miserable and nearly called it quits many times. 

At my race-day rock-bottom, I came to understand something of great value. I chose it all. To that point, whatever I had done or not done had coalesced into the exact experience I wanted. It was so simple and brilliant. Quit or Don’t. Unsure about the answer, I happened to lock eyes with Elvis—apparently he's alive and singing at kilometer 34. Through whatever magic he still possesses, he helped project my vision past the finish line. Regardless of which path I chose, I’d soon be scarfing down a greasy burger with my feet on ice, the pain faded into memory. Only, one option was preferable. Your choice D. Thanks Elvis. 

Post-Race Epilogue

Completing this marathon helped me grow. Maturity, ehh, is a bit much. I’m grateful because my love for running has returned. Maybe Elvis triggered it, but the most unexpected side effect was the brushing away of the apathetic cobwebs that had been collecting, almost unnoticed, along the fringes of my day-to-day experience. I feel more clear-headed now, and I’m excited to see what’s up next. 

The next day I woke up bright and alert. Except I’m a bit pissed now. Keeping in mind everything I have shared, had I paced myself better at the beginning, then without a doubt I would have posted a faster time.

Damn you 3:15 pace bunny. Ha!

There I go, if only … 

Dustin Dickout

Freelance Writer

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