I recently completed my first marathon – one of many things that people suddenly do when at the mid-point of their lives. Reflecting back on the experience, I was struck by the parallels between a marathon and life in general. The distinct emotional phases that I went through during the 42.2km journey eerily mirrored those of my life to-date. It is as if a digital recorder played back my trials and tribulations of the past 39 years but truncated it in 3 hours and 55 minutes – still a very long time but let’s not dwell too much on that!
1. The Exuberant Phase, Brimming with Cockiness
With arrogant confidence gained from a solid training regime beforehand, I began the race well. So well that, for the first 15km, I was tearing up the course comfortably under my goal time of 3 hours and 20 minutes. I remember overtaking the pacing group for that same time, almost sneering at their tortoise-like caution, while ignoring my hare-like recklessness. At one stage, I even sprinted past a boisterous street crowd at a drink station, too pumped up to even take a drink because I was too busy showboating my amazing speed and stamina.
2. The Comfortable Phase, Devoid of Zeal
As the running crowd stretched out and thinned around the 15-20km mark, the self-admiration and show-boating gave away to an eerie sense of detachment. Fatigue began to set in, slowing down my pace as well as my breathing. At that slower pace, however, I felt I was in an auto-pilot mode and could just run forever. Such was the comfort that I ignored taking the energy gels which I had meticulously planned to consumer at designated intervals to keep my sugar and energy levels up. I simply felt in the zone and was confident that zone would carry me uneventfully to the end. While that meant finishing about 10 minutes later than my target, I gradually became comfortable with that too, much to my own dismay at how easily I gave up on my initial goal.
3. The Rock-Bottom Phase, Full of Despair
At around the 25km mark, my knees began to hurt, forcing me to shorten my strides. This somehow led to strangely uncomfortable feelings in my ankles and muscles in my lower legs that I never knew I had. My mind, on the other hand, was battling its own demons who incessantly posed unhelpful but quite valid remarks such as: “Why are you doing this to yourself?” and “Do you realize how much further you have to go?”. These seeds of doubt blossomed into a forest of despair at the 32km mark, as excruciating cramps started to work their way up from my lower legs up to the back of my thighs. The physical and emotional anguish were so severe by that point that I did something I have never done before in a race — I stopped running and started walking.
As I trudged along forlornly, wondering how I can possibly cover the remaining 10km at this pathetic rate and in this diabolic pain, all those runners who I gleefully overtook earlier in the race passed me by, one by one (the 3 hour 20 minute pace group, the 3 hour 30 minute pace group, the 3 hour 40 minute pace group, the elderly couple probably 20 years my senior). Rather than looking like the cautious tortoises of earlier, they appeared downright superhuman this time around!
4. The Resurrection Phase, Fuelled by Tenacity
Tired of feeling sorry for myself doing the loser’s walk, I willed my body into what may roughly be called jogging motion. This was at the 34km mark, still seemingly an eternity from the end. But I didn’t want to let myself down. I wanted to cross the finish line, not as a dejected walker, but as a proud runner, albeit one who had given up all hope not so long ago. The subsequent 8 km shuffle (running would be too grand a description) was perhaps one of the hardest things that I have ever done in my life — one painful step after another, with no grand ambition other than to not give up. Eventually, I finished, in running motion, and even with a smile on my face. Pathetic as it may seem, the sense of achievement I felt was indescribable, most certainly made more so because of the lows I experienced during the race.
Rejuvenated and Ready to Do It Again
The emotional roller-coaster of a marathon that I just described happened a month ago. Despite the experience, but most likely because of it, I am eagerly anticipating my next 42.2km challenge. Masochistic as it may sound, I am especially looking forward to that 32km mark where I can redeem myself for my first time failure. That’s the good thing about marathons. Unlike life, the journey’s not only truncated, but opportunities for redemption are never far away. On second thoughts, perhaps life IS just like a marathon, a perpetual roller-coaster ride with triumphs, failures and endless opportunities for redemption.
Featured photo credit: young businessman running in a city street via Shutterstock