Wait Till Next Year?

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With the Chicago, Marine Corps, and NYC marathons upon us, thousands of runners are maxing out mileage in the hopes of a successful 26.2 miler this fall.

At Moji, we have the honor of attending dozens of marathon training events including weekday running clubs, Saturday morning training programs, and every type of prep race from 5K fun runs to half marathons.  The emotions revealed through these hopeful marathoners’ expressions run the gamut – nervousness, pride, exuberance, confidence, sometimes even surprise.  However, the one emotion they all share in common is hope.

The healthy runners hope for a great Marathon Sunday.   The injured runners simply hope to have any Marathon Sunday at all.

It is almost unbearable to watch these injured runners finish the last few steps of the days training run.  They hobble up to the Moji tent, wincing in rhythm with every step.  They crack jokes about their sore knees or lament their bad backs and ease down into a chair to get some cold for their pain.  Most are veterans who battle back aches and pains to maintain their place on the starting line.  They know their bodies and mind their limitations.  However, other are misled warriors waging a losing war.

Liz Robbins of The New York Times writes a wonderful article outlining the tough choice runners must make in determining whether it’s time to suck it up and run through the pain or call it a season.  We witness runners struggle with this agonizing decision week after week as they try to keep up with the demands of their training schedules.

And though it is hard to see the physical pain on these runners’ faces, it is even harder to see the hope.  Before they open their mouths, you know what’s coming next – “But I already logged so many miles,”  “But this is my first marathon,” “But I’m trying to qualify.”  We greet them, Moji in hand, wondering what to say because they’re not just looking to us to treat their pain; they’re looking for us to condone it.

We can’t tell a runner if the pain is too much or the injury too severe to get them to the finish line on race day.  We don’t know for sure what damage they might do or the consequences they might face for pushing too hard for too long on too injured limbs.  We can’t give these injured runners the one thing they desperately want, the assurance that it’s okay to run.

However, the assurance we can give is this:  If you treat your body right, this isn’t your last shot.  You can have your firsts and bests next year, or maybe even next month, when your body can sustain the miles and the race won’t be your last.

Each year, there are 800 marathons worldwide, the bulk of which aren’t going anywhere.  Boston, the oldest marathon in the U.S., has been run since 1897 and Chicago and NYC will be celebrating their 32nd and 39th years respectively.  These races happen year after year after year.

So, as emotionally painful as it seems, you can afford to wait till next year.  It is no less of an accomplishment in 2010 than it would be in 2009.

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