Six Miles of Truth

I follow a handful of blogs, not all running–there are cycling, hiking, writing, vegetarian, photography, poetry, and what I can only describe as fringe. One blog I follow is Outsider Reading written by a professor of American Literature and a Walt Whitman aficionado who is also a marathoner. How could I not love that combination? After all, Walt Whitman was even a major influence in Breaking Bad, like when Hank found Leaves of Grass in Walt’s bathroom, or when Gale recited When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer to Walt in the lab.

Walt Whitman aside, Outsider reading wrote a great post on The Marathon: Would you do it again? It sounded so familiar:

“That night, still sore from the race, I turned to Andrea and said, ‘You know, I don’t think I’m done with the marathon.’

She laughed, looked at the clock, and declared, ’10:18 p.m. on Monday. That’s the longest it’s taken you yet.’

What can I say? She knows me.

So it comes down to this: I still have too many unanswered questions. I haven’t solved the problem of the marathon.

Circa 1980

Circa 1980

Perhaps I never will. But I’m ok with that. After all, I study literature not because it is familiar, predictable, or reassuring, but because I find the problems and puzzles it poses compelling. It turns out that I will keep running marathons for the same reason.

And that’s not such a bad use of time.”

Outsider’s post reminded me that I swore I’d never run another marathon after I finished the 1981 Philadelphia Marathon, a promise I kept for twenty years before I gave it a second try. When I crossed the finish line in the 2001 Philly Marathon, I reiterated that I’d never run another. Next month I’ll run my fourteenth.

Bermuda Marathon 2006

Bermuda Marathon 2006

What is it about the marathon that keeps seducing us runners back, that we keep tormenting and punishing ourselves? How can we beat our bodies into oblivion, yet come back for more time after time?

My theory is that the lure of the marathon is the stretch after mile twenty. That is the period when the twenty miles of hope is behind us, and we enter those six miles of truth. In those final six miles we are alone, even if surrounded by thousands of other runners. We are laid bare with nothing but our bodies, our thoughts and our will. It is the sweat spot of the marathon where we learn who we are and what we are made of. I’ve found no other sensation in life that has gotten me closer to the truth about who I am than those six miles.

The last thing most marathoners think about when they cross the finish line is their next marathon, but that feeling dissipates with time. If someone would have told me in 1981 that I’d be running my fourteenth marathon this year, I would have said they were mad, yet sitting here writing this post there is no doubt I’ll run my fifteenth to celebrate my sixtieth next year.

Collage of my grandson, son and I by artist Joanne McDonough from Twenty-four Years to Boston.

Collage of my grandson, son and I by artist Joanne McDonough from Twenty-four Years to Boston.

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About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
This entry was posted in 24 Years to Boston, Health, Marathon, Running, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Six Miles of Truth

  1. utalap says:

    Love that picture from the 80s! 😀

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  2. kmv2009 says:

    Good luck in the Philly Marathon. May the wind be at your back ad may your toenails stay on your toes. 🙂

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  3. LB says:

    The post was excellent and the responses great, too. I’ve shared this with a couple friends who run marathons.

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  4. Jim,
    That next to last paragraph speaks pure truth. I may have to quote you using that paragraph. I’ve called running your first race a “revelatory experience”. That first race, no matter the distance, has the power to change your life. Each marathon is a graduate level course on what you are made of.
    Great post.
    Andy

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  5. A) I love that collage; and B) This post filled me with anticipation for my next marathon! Thanks, Jim.

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      Thanks. I’m fortunate to have a creative artist in the family (actually, a couple of them.) George Sheehan, the guru, said that running is the runners work of art. How true. We marathoners live for those six miles of truth. Good luck to you!

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  6. msmidt says:

    For me, if I’m going t have a good experience, the best will occur between miles 20 to 26. If something bad goes wrong, it’s probably already occurred before then.

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  7. Thanks for the kind words, Jim. It’s amazing how Whitman crops up, isn’t it? I am in complete agreement with your theory that the “lure of the marathon is the stretch after mile twenty,” and that’s probably why it is so difficult to explain; after all, those are the hardest miles, those that seem absolutely the least appealing, particularly to non-runners. Why do we continue to put ourselves through it? Whitman has a pretty good response (naturally): “You are also asking me questions and I hear you, / I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself” (“Song of Myself”). Have a great day!

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  8. Joey says:

    There are so many elements that go into a marathon that can make the last 6 miles unique. Each time you enter that final stretch, anything can happen no matter how prepared you are. Each time you enter that part of the race, it’s a whole new experience. It’s the part of the race you’re completely stripped to your core. Fantastic post!

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