Each year at the start of the Mount Marathon Race, before the gun goes off and the madness begins, I stare up at the peak for a long and silent moment. It always looks so green and shadowed and immense, and I feel so pale and thin and small, that I experience the urge to genuflect or make the sign of the cross—not because I’m especially religious, which I’m not, but because it strikes me as such a solemn undertaking, to race up a mountain, to sweat and bleed, curse and pray over its aloof yet welcoming surface.
I started running the Mount Marathon Race five years ago, not because I thought the race looked fun or challenging but because it fell on the Fourth of July, the same day my second oldest sister died of complications from an eating disorder. I suppose I was seeking penance. I wanted to hurt and suffer, yes, but I also wanted my suffering to lead toward redemption.
And it did. It does. The race is a beast, a dragon. It flays me flat, kicks my butt, leaves me bloody and torn and defenseless.
I think this is why many of us race, not the elite runners who finish in front but the rest of us, the middle- and back-of-the-packers who have no hope of winning, who don’t care much about our time, who struggle up the mountain with our heads lowered and our hands tight on our knees. We do it not for the pain so much as for the transcendence that comes with the pain, for the moment when we become lost in the brutality of it all, when our muscles scream and our legs shake and everything in us cries for us to stop. We race for the exhilaration of being up on the mountain in the morning, the wind in our hair and sweat against our lips, the glorious thud of our hearts reminding us that we are alive and nothing else matters but this moment, this pain, this feeling of our bodies moving and bending.
Read the rest here.