Just to cross the finish line upright in a marathon, you’ll train forty or fifty miles a week. You’ll do one or two training runs of twenty miles or more. You’ll train in ice storms and stifling humidity. You’ll run with sore knees and twisted ankles.
You’ll do it all for the race’s last two-tenths of a mile. Even if you have to walk part of the race, and even if your calves cramp so bad that you can barely put one leg in front of the other, you will run past the finish line. You’ll do it even though you’re dehydrated, and the sweat on your eyebrows has formed into salt crystals, and even though your nipples bleed because you did not remember to apply friction protection. You’ll run like it is the first mile of the race instead of the last few steps.
You’ll do it for yourself, sure. But you’ll also do it for all those people at the finish line on the other side of the barricades. You don’t know them, but they cheer for you. Many of them have come because their loved runs are running. But not all of them. Many in the crowd come to the finish line because they understand the effort ordinary humans put into that extraordinary event. They know the runners are not incredible athletes, but people just like them. They see the equality of a marathon. They know that people who could not win a one hundred meter dash, hit a baseball far, or throw a touchdown, can do this.
The fastest runner in the world, and the slowest, will run the same distance, the same hills, and cross the same finish line. You get to hear the cheers from the same strangers who applauded the winner. Volunteers will welcome you with energy drinks and silver thermal blankets. They’ll hang a medal around your neck and congratulate you for your accomplishment the same as if you set a world record. They will mean it, too. You will thank them for their kindness. You will be glad you finished strong for all those strangers.
When you cross the finish line, passing the cheering crowd and volunteers, you may cry a little. Because you did it. Because all those weeks and hundreds of miles of training are over. You’ll cry because it was worth it after all, and because you want to do it again. For those cheers at the finish line.