Enduring The Agony

Carl S. Ey

BLURB:  “Barking dogs,” dehydrated bodies and sweat pay the price in order to feel good.

Quite sometime ago, a friend of mine told me a stupid joke.  It is so silly that I have never repeated it until now; it seems to fit the subject of this week’s article.  The joke is that a man was sitting at his desk pounding his head against the wall.  One of his co-workers walked by and inquired as to why the gentleman was hitting his head.  Without hesitation, the man answered, “because it feels so good when I stop.”

I never laughed at that joke but always thought that it was indicative of some of the strange things that human beings will do.  One of those strange things took place on Sunday in Arlington, Va.  Courtesy of the United States Marine Corps, 25,000 runners lined up for the 25th Marine Corps Marathon.  The crowd was so large for the silver anniversary of the Monument Marathon that the race organizers had 3 start times in order to keep the runners from crowding one another.

Twenty-five thousand people decided to put their bodies through torture in order to complete the grueling course that begins at the Iwo Jima Memorial and ends there as well.

“It is an awesome feeling to be finished,” said Peter Gwin, who met his goal of completing the marathon under the required 3 hours and fifteen minutes to qualify for the Boston Marathon. “The initial feeling is ‘thank God,’ I can stop.  I was really hurting at the end of the race.  My legs were ready to quit.  It was a relief.”

“ is the best feeling,” said Vern Bahm, running his third marathon.  “You can stop running.  I don’t have to go out and train anymore.”

Every runner that I interviewed for this article had similar comments with respect to finishing the 26 miles of the fourth largest marathon in the country.  To me, those statements are similar to our friend that is banging his head against the office wall.  Yet, many people compete to get one of the 25,000 entry positions.  I can’t help but wonder why anyone puts himself or herself through this torture.  Is it a freak occurrence in nature?

“I wanted to lose weight and get in shape for my military duties; something to do after I turned forty,” said first-time marathoner, Gino Yannotti.  “I wanted to do something that I thought was unattainable to do.”

“Everybody wants to know their limits,” said Kevin Beal, manager and personal trainer at Nauti-Body Fitness Center in Springfield, Va.  Beal trained for 4 months to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 1997 and says that he will do it again.

“It was a personal challenge,” said Bahm.  “I enjoy running; for me it is relaxing.  Twenty-six miles is a little bit much but in a way it is kind of fun.”

Bahm contends that he will run another one as well, which leads me to wonder what a marathoner is thinking about when he or she is running. Besides the soreness of their feet or wondering when the next of 12 water points is coming, what else goes through the runner’s mind?

“Miles 22 through 25 are the worst; you want it to be over at that point,” said first-time marathoner, Michelle Yannotti.  “I found a little zip lock bag with Jolly Ranchers and power gel packs, which was my little ‘miracle thing’ that I picked up and ate.  It was in a zip lock bag!”

Michelle Yannotti said that at mile 22, the people working at the water points gave the runners water and jellybeans.  However, many of the runners throw the jellybeans to the ground.  But, Yannotti claims that she was so hungry that she would have eaten the jellybeans right off of the pavement if she hadn’t found her little “miracle thing.”  She claims that running marathon once is enough.

Bahm had other things keeping his mind occupied.  At mile 20, he ran with a young woman that was struggling.

“You carry on little conversations with the people around you,” said Bahm.  “I was running with Sonya and she was carrying a cell phone.  Around mile 20, she got a phone call from her family asking where she was.”

Other more serious runners such as Gwin are concentrating on their watch, checking their times and contemplating their strategy and when they should eat a GU, which is a pure carbohydrate paste in a plastic container similar to a MacDonald’s ketchup packet.

Beal had another strategy in order to finish.  He claims that he remained focused throughout the ordeal concentrating on the fact that there really was a finish line.

“Literally, that was a chant for me,” he said.

Marathon running seems to be a trend that is capturing the nation.  The Internet is even involved. At this year’s marathon, fans, friends and family members of the runners could track the runners on-line through a chip attached to each runner’s shoe.

Perhaps the best part of the event is that it shows no prejudices; the fit, unfit, young, old, disabled and even children can compete but be advised it is not for the fool-hearted.

I think I will just keep banging my head on the wall.