Reflections on a Marathon

November 15, 2010

As many New Yorkers did a couple Sundays ago, I got up early and planted myself with bagel, coffee and gloves at a corner of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn and started yelling feverishly in support of strangers, jumping up and down, hooting, hollering…

And crying.

I mean, like, practically immediately there were tears.

Partially, the emotion was from watching  the Achilles International runners make their way past me.  Whether it was a blind runner with their guide, a hand-crank wheel chair racer, or any other runner with a disability, those athletes completely blew my mind – not only in their own efforts, but in those of the able-bodied runners who would spend the marathon as their guide and assistant for the full 26.2.

But what made me most emotional was the support of the crowd in general.  Having the privilege of living in Brooklyn, I got to cheer with a crowd of folks who were predominantly NYC residents.  Not that I have anything against Manhattan tourists (ok… maybe when I’m trying to walk quickly to work I have something against tourists…), but they’ll get excited and enthusiastic about most anything in New York City.  But a street packed with Brooklynites, there for no reason other than to lend their vocal support to thousands of people running by that they don’t know, is something truly special.

One of the things I find most appealing about the iconography in Buddhist philosophy, is that statues and images of the Buddha are never supposed to be considered as presentations of gods or deities.  Rather, the Buddha’s image is intended to be a direct reflection of human’s highest potential.  Not that the Buddha is someone better than you, more special than you, who accomplished more than you, but rather the Buddha is just like you, and he was able to achieve enlightenment just like you can.

Perhaps it’s hyperbole, but I think marathons also exemplify the highest potential of humanity – not only in the Elite Runners banging out 2 hour races at the peak of “fitness”, but in the struggle of the first timer, the expectation-blasting efforts of the Achilles athletes, and the unconditional support of strangers cheering on strangers.  I can only speak from a spectator’s point of view (so far…), but I think there are moments during marathons where that concept that we are all one, that we are all interdependent and evolving as one whole, jumps off the Eastern Religions 101 text book page, and becomes palpable and tangible.

In this spirit, I thought I’d include here a little video of a friend of mine, Captain Quinn, from marathon day this year.  The unceasing, unbridled cheer-gasm he brought throughout the day is the best example I can present, of this epitome of the human spirit:

[Note: I can’t figure out why youtube uploaded this sideways… if anyone knows how to fix it let me know]



  1. Next year go to central park around 5/5:30pm and watch, as the streets are beginning to open back up, the number of people who shift over to the sidewalks and keep going – regardless of the pace God has seen fit to bless them with that day -until they get to the finish.

    I also greatly appreciate people who run in costume. My favorite is still the lighthouse from ’07.

  2. I also watched and loved the crowd and the energy. A group of us caught a friend twice and each time we saw him it was an explosion of joy and energy.
    I’m surprised though at your unbridled support. Marathons are an incredible accomplishment, no doubt; but they seems so very un-yogic. In encouraging people to push beyond their limits, injuries are very common. Ironically, running a marathon strikes me as an overall UNhealthy thing to do (the cardio benefits are real, so too are the joint and knee damage).
    Watching a marathon felt like walking on 5th avenue where I can appreciate the ingenuity and creativity that goes into conspicuous consumption without actually desiring the objects themselves. In the same way, I can admire the athleticism, and commitment of the runners without desiring to be part of it. Same, similar or different with you?

    • I feel the need to point out here that a large percentage of “Yoga” as practiced in the west in general and New York City in particular, is just as unyogic as some marathoning, and elicits – I would venture to say – the same amount of injury.

      I most definitely used to feel this way about marathons, and then went to a lecture about barefoot running, ultramarathons (50 to 100- mile runs), and the evolution of running, and was convinced, in THEORY, otherwise. In terms of execution, I totally agree there is a great deal of unhealthy running that happens at the marathon, just as there is a great deal of unhealthy, competitive spirit yoga I see in studios and sometimes my own class.

      I won’t go into the running theory of evolution here, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it (go to youtube and search The Barefoot Professor for one).

      What I was really interested in, in terms of the thesis of this piece, is that height of support for and from strangers that happen at marathons – the incredible joy that comes from yelling someone’s name I’ve never met before, in no hope other than that they achieve their goal.

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