Presidential campaigns and marathons

A perfectly clear morning. I hit the concrete at 5 a.m. surrounded by stars. Just a great fall morning to run. And I was thinking that I would like to be in New York City Sunday to run the marathon. That ain’t going to happen now. Most likely never. But it’s a nice thought. And I was thinking that running in a presidential campaign must resemble in some ways running a marathon: loads of planning and commitment, periods of elation and self-doubt, the constant need for support and motivation, and then either reaching your goal — or not.

Either John McCain or Barack Obama will achieve his goal on Tuesday. And for the one that doesn’t, I can’t imagine that it won’t be a tremendous disappointment. Unlike a marathon, just finishing a presidential campaign I’m sure isn’t accomplishment enough. Both deserve credit for going for it — win or lose.

You can say the same thing about each of the 39,000 or so who will run the New York City Marathon. For example:

  • Maybe Zola Budd is still running at age 42 to put behind her the incident at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Her very appearance at the Olympics at that point was controversial because of the racial politics and policies of her native South Africa. And then running barefoot, Budd became tangled with America’s hope in the 10,000 meters, Mary Decker Slaney, sending Slaney crashing to the track and ending her Olympic dream.
  • Last November Ryan Shay was one of the favorites to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this past summer in the marathon. Instead, during the trials in New York City, he collapased about five miles into the race and died of a heart attack. He was 28. Sunday 19 of his former cross-country teammates at Notre Dame will run the marathon as a tribute to him.
  • Matthew Long is a NYC firefighter and a former triathlete and competitive marathoner. In 2005 he was hit by a chartered bus while biking to work. According to an article in the New York Times, Long was injured so badly that he had to learn to walk again and must still use a cane. Before the accident, he ran the marathon in a little over 3 hours and 13 minutes — about seven minutes a mile and change. Last May he ran his first mile since then — in 24 minutes. Sunday he is going to run the marathon and says: “I will finish if it’s physically possible, whether it’s 8 hours or 10.”

Good luck to Long and all the others.

And good luck to McCain and Obama.

Sometimes it takes real courage and commitment just to try.


2 responses to “Presidential campaigns and marathons

  1. Although I have not run a marathon, I think you make a good point by saying that running in a presidential campaign is similar to training for a marathon. I ran the Cleveland Half Marathon this past May and I went through periods of elation, self-doubt, etc. I think the big difference between training or running a marathon and a presidential campaign is instructions, how-to’s , and the plethora of advice that is out there for the marathoner-in-training. There is no manual out there for presidential candidates on how to run the perfect race. After Tuesday, we’ll all know who ran the perfect race.

  2. Christina,

    Congratulations on the half marathon in Cleveland. People don’t recognize how difficult that is unless they try it. I think for most of us the first time we tried a half-marathon or marathon there was a feeling that it would be OK just to finish. I can’t imagine that being true for John McCain or Barack Obama Tuesday. Winning would be the only “victory.” That’s a tough test.

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