Your Personal Story and Journey to the Marathon

by Karl Gruber
Long is your journey to crossing the finish line. Of course I am talking about the race itself, but how you come to considering, then training for and ultimately running a 26.2 mile or 13.1 mile race is also a process that makes me very curious.

Everyone’s marathon journey is different. You begin with 20,000 other runners at the start line, all with 20,000 different marathon journeys, but at some point during the race, those 20,000 individual stories merge into one. As the race progresses, a sense of unity and camaraderie kicks in — just watch the finish line of any half or full marathon. You will see runners who were complete strangers at the start line now high-fiving and helping drag each other to complete the race.

As for my own personal journey to the marathon, it all started with tennis! After high school and college, my friends and I became addicted to the game of tennis. We would play whenever, wherever and as long as possible — sometimes five to six hours a day. At some point in my tennis playing career, I realized I was not going to become a pro. 

It was then, during the running boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, that a couple of very good friends picked up running as the daily habit. I thought was pretty darn cool, so off I went too — running every day, mile after mile after mile. The beautiful part about moving from tennis to running is that playing tennis had kept me in great physical shape, so I was able to take the running leap pretty easily.

After about a year and a half of just running to run, my running friends had started running marathons. They inspired me to take that new step, to tackle a much bigger running challenge; it was a natural progression and the right fit for my lifestyle of great fitness and health. And as they say, the rest is history! I’ve completed 78 marathons and enjoyed many, many years of joy and racing memories. 

Like me, most runners’ efforts just naturally progressed to longer and longer mileage as their running fitness and abilities increased. Usually, it begins with a challenge from your buddies, “Hey, there’s a 5K race this Sunday in my neighborhood! Let’s sign up for it!” Though you all agree, soon enough it becomes, “Let’s sign up for that 10K… the half marathon… the 30K… and finally… the marathon this fall!” 

It seems to be a “given” for most runners to challenge themselves to run farther and farther, and even though 26.2 miles is not the ultimate race distance — ultramarathons are usually 50K, 50 miles or 100 miles — the marathon distance is the ultimate challenge for most everyday runners.

There are also individuals whose life circumstances lead them to toeing the start line of a half or full marathon. For instance, one of my community’s most well-known and well-liked female marathoners, Linda Evans, was killed one morning during a daily training run a couple summers ago, when a driver jumped the curb with his car and hit her head on several feet off the road. At that time, Linda was the only woman to have run every single Columbus Marathon since its inception in 1980. It was a terrible blow to the Columbus running community but an inspiration to Linda’s daughter, Carey Thomas. 

Though she had never run a marathon, Carey decided to complete the 2017 Columbus Marathon. Motivated by personal tragedy rather than the natural progression of building up to the marathon distance, Carey Thomas followed her own marathon journey to honor her mom. It was quite an emotional moment when she came across that finish line that day!

Personal tragedy may be a motivation to some, but supporting a charity is another motivator for many. While some may be moved to become a charity runner due to a personal connection, many simply decide to dedicate their 26.2 miles to raise money and awareness for a charity or cause that allows them to run for those who can’t or those in need. Charity runners are a perfect example of a many individual stories that join together as one, as a team with a common cause, to reach the finish line of a marathon.
All marathon runners have their own story, but it is running the marathon when these different journeys result in the common experience of overcoming the seemingly impossible feat of running 26.2 miles non-stop. And to me, that is a beautiful thing!

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