It looked the same as the prior 6 years I had run this event. The expo was crowed and filled with runners eager to purchase anything that served as a reminder they were about to do something special. The crowd at the start line was big and boisterous, some 17,000 strong. Even the fireworks and shooting flames were identical to prior years, the purples and gold, weaving in the sky like strands of DNA. But something was just not right. I could not put my finger on it, but I simply did not feel the same about this event.
I was in the next to last wave so there was much time to think, observe and yes. . . .get cold. The brisk temperatures, coupled with a damp wind crept up like a ninja, causing many of us to shiver, huddle and listen to our teeth chattering. The Canadian runners looked like they were in the midst of a heat wave, but Floridians were struggling with the penetrating cold, a cold that would take me some 20 miles to finally shake off.
Finally, the wait was over and the event began. Off into the darkness, I was bringing along several gels, a water bottle and a nagging question of “Why am I feeling like this?!” This is the event I wait for all year. A month before, I was beyond excited. Now that it is here, I . . . I . . . . want to be somewhere else.
I thought it must be the cold which always had a dampening effect on my body and my psyche. Once I warm up, all will be as before. Once I get into Epcot. Yes – Epcot – that’s the cure.
Epcot came and went, yet those lingering feeling clung to me like velcro. Perhaps the open roads from miles 4 to 8 would clear my head and elevate my spirits. Physically, I felt great. Never better in fact. Six months of track training, long runs and excellent nutrition was the perfect prescription for a marathon. If only I could snap back into my “old self,” the one who is running in a 47-year-old body with the smile of an 8-year-old boy, riding a pony for the first time.
Much to my chagrin, the open roads did little for my emotions but added to the coldness at my core. I knew Lisa would be up ahead, as would Magic Kingdom. Now my confidence soared. The “real cures” would be coming up shortly. At last, I can run like my old self and enjoy the happiest race(s) I have ever experienced – the Disney Marathon. I may have started at Mile Zero, but perhaps my real marathon would begin at Mile 8.
As anticipated, Lisa was there, beaming and beautiful as ever, just like the other times I did this event. A little up the road was the Castle at Magic Kingdom, a majestic structure that seems to blur the line between reality and fantasy. It was an incredible sight, just like always. Every thing was back to normal, just like prior years. Except me.
I am guessing it takes me about a minute to run up Main Street USA, but feels like 3 seconds. The energy of the crowd and the hallway of sound make it one of the most memorable experiences in my life. The crowd is so supportive and the runners could not be more grateful for this. At moments like this, it is easy to see that the marathon brings out the very best in people. It is a sampler from the “Heaven on Earth” menu.
I guess I just was not very hungry because nothing inside was changing at all. In fact, the internal dialogue was the only heat that was being generated in my body. Inquiry turned into frustration, and anger was starting to stretch out and getting ready to join the mix shortly. What was going on? The crowd was great. The volunteers were magnificent. The course was . . . DISNEY. . .my favorite! I was the only player not quite in the game.
Despite the chill, I had a Mile 13 meltdown. The internal dialogue turned to raw anger. “Why was this happening?!” “What is going on here?!” “I train for months and this is what I feel?!!” Please note that these are the edited versions of the conversation. It is a Disney event after all.
In an instant and one of the strangest feelings I ever encountered, I went from near-fury to indescribably calm. A wave of peace washed across along with the awareness of what was going on. For me, running is not about getting in shape or logging big miles but rather a cross between therapy and spirituality. Some people meditate or walk across hot coals or fast for a week to connect. I run, so in retrospect, I am not surprised at the occurences, only the messages. They were clear. They were pronounced. In other words, I heard and I knew them. Only today, some 48 hours later, did I accept them. (I will get to these shortly.)
At that point I knew it was going to be a long walk. . . not run. . . to the finish. There were some physical things — a couple of blisters and a twisted ankle — but they were a distraction at best, excuses at worst – from the real truth of the matter.
I saw Lisa again at Mile 18 and we talked for about 30 minutes or more. My intention was to walk off the course and avoid additional suffering. Fortunately, she knew me better than I did and said the right things so that I would get back out and complete the marathon. I really do not remember much of the next 8 miles. My body was there but mind was elsewhere.
At around 12:45pm, I managed to cross the finish line, completing my 7th and least eventful/most memorable marathon. It reminded me of the time was in San Francisco to take my national licensing exam to become an Acupuncture Physician. I was in San Francisco, a beautiful city with countless things to do, but did not get to enjoy it because I was inside a hotel taking a grueling weekend-long test. That is how I would describe this event, not as a marathon but as a stressful test.
My initial post-race reactions were that I was simply burned out – burned out from 7 years of long runs, from doing the same event and knowing the course too well. To a degree, this is accurate. It is honest. It is just not truth.
I also thought that maybe I needed a break. In addition to our business which is expanding into new areas AND a martial arts school that I run AND monthly trips to train in W. Palm Beach AND Japanese language lessons AND Shodo lessons AND Arnis training (am I missing anything here?), maybe I needed some rest. To a degree, this is accurate. It is honest. It is just not truth.
Recently I watched an interesting documentary on PBS about the Buddha. One quote really hit me and swirled around my head through much of the second half of the marathon:
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
Seven years ago, I started running for the first time. I had run as part of training for baseball and martial arts but never as an activity unto itself. So I had the starting (or not starting as the Buddha said) portion down pat. It was the “not going all the way. . . ” section that over the past 2 years or so, slipped away from me. These were the messages (I mentioned above) that were in front of me during this weekend and especially during the event, glaring at me, even though I tried avoiding eye contact.
I ran this event, like I did every other to finish, simply to finish. That has always been my goal and I was very happy with it. Only in my 7th marathon, I was not very happy. The course was the same. The energy was the same. The event was the same. I, however, was not the same. I was being honest with myself, just not truthful.
My truth was clear but I did not want to accept it. My truth was that “simply finishing” was no longer satisfying. I was not “going all the way” as the Buddha stated. Not even close, and the gap between who I was before and who I am now was shockingly wide, wide enough for happiness, joy and pleasure of an annual event to fall into to the darkness.
Truth does not operate from history, but rather presents a blank sheet to paint your most beautiful portrait now. Ignore it, push it aside or pretend it does not exist and it will still find you. It found me and shadowed me the whole running season.
The closeness of our relationships – particularly the relationship with ourself – is directly proportional to the degree to which we have revealed the truth about ourself. It can be brutally painful and will make its grand entry when we least expect it. It can be found everywhere, even at marathons. Especially at marathons.
In the past, I would have made the commitment to do the Disney Marathon 2012 today. Instead, I made the commitment to be truthful and re-invent myself as a runner and thus, as a person. I do not know what I am capable of doing. Now, I will find out. It is time to toss out the old and go forward to a new start. Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day the world is made anew. I look out my window and see the new grass, new leaves on the trees, new sunrise and new sunset. Nature certainly lives Her Truth.
Now is my turn.