"I didn't go out looking for negative characters; I went out looking for people who have a struggle and a fight to tackle. That's what interests me."
-Philip Seymour Hoffman
Training for a marathon is about paying attention to yourself. It presses you into a small, pure space in your body and mind that can be otherwise lost in a world of sedentary living and shocking headlines. Though your training is expansive, this space is focused. It demands your whole presence. It feeds you with endorphins, it settles inner debates about what matters, it tightens your ass for your favorite pair of jeans. It is existential and physiological. It fills you with delusions of grandeur and a mundane sense of having something important to do. It is painted in colors of pleasure and pain. When everything else is uncertain, I like to go to this space.
I could easily substitute "heroin" or a multitude of other evil things for "training for a marathon"in that paragraph. Heroin took the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman today.
I do not think marathon training is like addiction though. True, endorphins are nice. And the fitting into jeans can be good too, though superficial of course. But really what marathons represent is tackling something difficult that also gives pleasure and purpose to what for most of us is an unfocused existence. Or perhaps an existence focused on things that make us feel toxic and ungrounded.
Today I took a traditional Sunday long run with a friend who is faster than I. My role in this was tortoise to his hare. His role, I suppose, was to make me a faster marathoner.
I do wonder though, with all the swirling hullabaloo surrounding life as a parent of teenagers and a doctor of patients, if marathon training is sensible. Why not just run 6 miles a few times a week and leave it at that? I have certainly had that question posed to me many a time. Is there not struggle enough?
People need a focused space for healing, gratitude, escape, wonderment, and for paying complete attention to the body and soul they possess. At least I do. I have found that in other places besides marathon preparation. Being on the outside, sitting on a surfboard, waiting. Getting completely dissolved into the playing of music. Sex, of course. And birthing.
What is different about marathons is the process of preparation. If wise, you are given a four month task with something assigned each day. Life will try to derail you, but in the process you learn to listen to what your body needs and you learn to love the very act of that listening. So, it is not actually an escape, or a delusion. It is not an opiate to the spandex enwrapped masses. It is a struggle. It is the key to your own heart's contentment. It is as mundane as bread and butter. It is a way out of the darkness.