Marathons: Inspiring Stories and Congratulations

As we head into the weekend, there is an event taking place in DC Sunday that brings out the best in people. No. It’s not the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It’s the Marine Corps Marathon.

My friend Tiffany Westover-Kernan is running in the marathon. Good luck and best wishes to her and the thousands of others who will take the 26.2 mile self-directed tour of the nation’s capital.

Most importantly, I hope they have fun and enjoy the experience.

I know I did when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in the mid-1980s. By that time I was no longer running against the clock. I was running to achieve something that was important to me for a variety of reasons. I expect that is true for most who will be at the starting line on Sunday.

But for me that wasn’t always the case. I ran my first marathon a few years earlier in Columbus and was intent on finishing under four hours. And I was on pace to do that until about mile 20 when things pretty much fell apart on what was an extremely hot and humid day. I finished in 4:20.

And I was deflated. I had just finished a marathon but I didn’t feel good about it. And when people asked me about how I did, I mumbled, okay.

So I read with interest a blog post in the NYT, “On Post-Marathon Monday, Please, Just Say Congratulations,” by Jim Axelrod, a national correspondent for CBS News who completed his first marathon in New York last year.

His time: 4 hours and 30 minutes. He was pleased, considered it a personal accomplishment and the achievement of something, well, inspirational. Then came the questions from friends a co-workers. Here’s from the post:

Aside from my wedding day, and the days my three kids were born, Marathon Sunday was the most important day of my life. Along with dispelling the discontent and burning off the malaise, I obliterated my limits and redefined my capacity. Not bad for four and a half hours of work.

The next morning, endorphins still pumping, gingerly making my way down West 57th Street to CBS News headquarters, I had the oddest encounter with a colleague.

“Hey, Jim, I heard you ran the marathon. Congratulations.” I smiled proudly. But he wasn’t finished. “So … what was your time?”

There was no way this fine fellow, whom I would charitably describe as no stranger to the buffet table, could have had the faintest understanding of what a good time for a 46-year-old first time marathoner might be. Or a bad time, for that matter.

And the point:

So do me a favor. On the Monday after Marathon Sunday, when you see the co-worker who completed the 26.2 miles — running, walking, or crawling — taking their victory lap around the office, how about we leave it at “congratulations, that’s some kind of achievement.” If you must add something, how about — “have fun?”

When I was on my extended vacation in Europe this summer, there was a triathlon in Budapest that attracted world-class athletes from around the world. The day after the triathlon, on a plane heading to Rome, I ended up sitting next to one of the competitors, a young woman from Canada. We were chatting about the event and I asked: “How did you do?”

Well, clearly that question was as popular as a fart in church. Her reply: “Okay, for me.”

Sigh.

I should have just said congratulations.

And hope you had fun.

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