On an unseasonably warm October day a few years ago, I watched from the sidelines and cheered on the Chicago Marathon runners. Personally, I don’t think the human body was meant to run 26.2 miles. Throbbing feet, chafed nipples, blisters, “charley horses”, lactic acid, black toe nails, and running 4-8 hours to the point of complete and utter exhaustion doesn’t sound like fun to me. But that’s just me. 45,000 people signed up for the marathon. It would have been more, but the registration is capped at that amount. Contrary to my own sensibility, there are apparently thousands of people who think running, walking, hobbling, and crawling 26.2 miles is a perfect way to spend a beautiful Sunday in the fall.
As I watched from the sidelines, it occurred to me that there were lots of life lessons to be gained from the experience. I took out a sheet of paper and began jotting notes. These are the lessons I learned that day:
Lesson #1: If you decide to take on a huge challenge, then you need to put time, effort, and energy into preparation. It takes months to build your endurance, stamina, and control. It takes commitment, consistency, and motivation. There is no shortcut for proper preparation, and it’s obvious to everyone watching the race which runners prepared for that long, arduous task.
Lesson #2: If you don’t take the high road, and instead, don’t properly prepare, then determination and desire can make up for your underdevelopment. If you haven’t trained your body to finish the race, you can use grit and sheer willpower to compel your body to the finish.
Lesson #3: I was positioned near the end of the route. So, by the time most people got to my mile marker, they couldn’t run anymore, and many were just walking. I was struck by one man in particular who couldn’t even walk and had resorted to crawling. It dawned on me that if I had dedicated so much of myself to completing such a momentous task, then I too would finish by any means necessary. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by God, finish what you started.
Lesson #4: For me, watching and cheering on the sidelines was cathartic. I realized that when I can’t do something or don’t want to do something, I shouldn’t feel inferior because I’m not doing it. Instead, I should cheer them on. I should revel in their success. If you choose not to do, then cheer others on.
Lesson #5: A tradition of marathon runners is to write their name on their shirt so spectators can yell out personal encouragement. “Go, Sharon” is much more motivating than “Go, Yellow Shirt.” I loved how my screams of encouragement would give the runners a burst of energy and an appreciative smile. It’s a wonderful tradition that allows the spectators to personally connect with the runners and motivate them. One and a half million spectators stood along the marathon route; so, for the runners, that was 1.5 million opportunities for support. When you’re facing a challenge of that magnitude, take advantage of all the support you can get.
Lesson #6: Truth be told, I didn’t feel like cheering when I first got there, but as the Lord would have it, I ended up standing next to the loudest and most energetic marathon cheerleader of them all. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon I was clapping and yelling support along with her. If ever I don’t feel like cheering, I will find the loudest, most exuberant cheerleader and stand next to that person. Enthusiasm is contagious; catch it.
Lesson #7: I don’t know what sadist thought up having the runners climb a hill at mile 24, but someone did. Surely, they could have put the hill in the beginning or left it out altogether, but no – two miles from the finish line, that’s the perfect place for a hill. So close, yet so far away. But that’s how life is sometimes; when you’re so close to the finish line, life throws in an uphill climb. So, don’t give up when you get to a hill.
If you have never gone to a marathon, you definitely should. Though I’ll never be inspired to run 26.2 miles, I was inspired to stop procrastinating and get to work on my big life goals. When you see all those people giving their all, pushing their minds and bodies to perform at an extraordinary level, you get motivated to take charge of your own life. That’s the greatest lesson I learned that day.
Deanna Burrell is the General Sales Manager at WVON and the author of the explosive novel, Single Girl Summer. This essay was originally published in her first book “Voted Most Creative: Perspectives on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Happiness” which is a collection of poems and essays on inspiration and creativity.
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