A sneak preview of the first few pages of the manuscript, before final editing
May your mind set you free
May your heart lead you on
May your mind let you be
May your heart be strong
James, From the Song ‘Waltzing Along’
A strong enthusiasm
To undergo a hardship
To instill or create a feeling in a person
To make a thorough or dramatic change
‘The marathon is widely known as the ultimate test of athletic endurance, 26.2 miles of running, a grueling and punishing event that tests the limits of one’s resolve to overcome fear with sheer guts and determination’ Steve Edwards
‘Travelling and running marathons have been the most satisfying thing I have ever done both physically and spiritually. I feel honored to be able to participate in such an adventure’ Cheryl Murdock
In November 2006 I was standing on a train platform in what to me felt like the middle of nowhere in Athens, Greece. It was early evening and getting dark. A bitterly cold wind sliced through anyone who was unfortunate enough to be exposed to it.
I was standing beside another runner who, like me, was contemplating hypothermia, and a dozen or so others who no doubt were thinking the same. We had assembled on the platform having just registered for the Athens marathon – ‘the Marathon’ – in an old airport hangar several miles out of downtown Athens. Dave was busy trying to stay warm by rubbing his hands and moving quietly on the spot. We got to talking about running of course, and what he told me turned my understanding of marathons upside down.
In his early forties, head shaved, and standing about 6 foot Dave had a huge smile. He told me in a very understated matter of fact way that it was ‘a special run because it would be his 200th marathon’.
Here I was about to run my first of what would be three marathons in a two-month period thinking that I might be pushing it. Dave stunned me again when he casually mentioned that the Athens marathon would be his 40th of the year. He and his wife Linda lived north of London and either traveled in the United Kingdom or somewhere in Europe running a marathon every weekend, sometimes two. He’d done that the previous year as well.
Our train eventually arrived. We quickly threw ourselves in and reacquainted our bodies with warmth. Dave and I continued talking for the next forty minutes – well, to be more accurate, I kept asking him about his running – where he’d run, why, his favorite runs, where he’d travelled … how did he manage to run so many all the time. In that forty minute train ride back into Acropolis area of Athens, my knowledge of marathon running grew exponentially. Dave introduced me to Linda and his friends – other members of the United Kingdom 100 Marathon Club. Linda had recently run her 100th marathon in Frankfurt, Germany. She showed me the necklace and pendant that club members had given her when she completed her 100th marathon. When we got off the train we grimaced at the cold wind which had followed us into town and parted ways, wishing each other all the best for the race. I walked away realizing I knew very little about the world of marathon running.
I thought I knew enough about marathon running but after talking to Dave I realized I knew very little. It occurred to me that it doesn’t matter if I can understand and memorize a training schedule; what I don’t know is the context in which I run marathons – the richness – within which runners – normal people – embrace the marathon experience. Dave was running his 200th marathon. Years of distance running experiences. Not just the runs themselves, but getting there, the places, the people, the socialization – the total experience of each marathon.
Running a marathon distance or longer – that is, 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometres) – is a significant achievement in itself; training programs suggest it will take several months to adequately prepare for a marathon. But imagine if you were to run ten marathons in just one year. That’s taking the achievement up a notch or two. Even then it would still take you ten years to run 100 marathons, assuming life doesn’t get in the way and you’re injury free. That also means you have to find, plan for, and travel to, ten marathons, every year, for ten years. That may not be difficult if you live just outside New York, or in Seattle, or London England, but what if you live in Perth, Australia, thousands of miles from anywhere? And what if you don’t even drive? What if you’re blind? What if you’re deaf? Or in a wheelchair?
By the end of the 2008 climbing season on Mount Everest, Wikipedia notes that there had been 4,102 ascents to the summit by about 2,700 individuals. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have run 100 marathons.
Running a marathon is so much more than simply putting the left foot in front of the right foot over a distance of 26.2 miles. Who better to learn about the total experience of long distance running than those individuals who have had the most experience? Runners who keep coming back to the start line for more and more. Why do they do it? What have they found? What can we learn? What messages can they share with us?
I have interviewed more than one hundred and twenty of these Messengers from around the world for this book. Some of the messengers have completed well over two-hundred marathons and ultras and some have completed several hundred. A smaller group has completed more than a thousand. If we want insights into the long distance runner, and what distance running means for our spirit, for the human soul, then who better to ask than these individuals?
You’ll see they are passionate about distance running and what it means to their lives. Their stories inspire.
And they seem so damn happy.