I don’t know how to train months on end for a big event, like a marathon, and keep entirely calm in the final days leading up to the big race. Even though I’ve been telling myself the goal this time around is to run hard and to appreciate whatever comes my way throughout the race, I can’t help but be nearly blown over by eager anticipation. Mostly it’s excitement, positive and rousing, but of course there’s also been nervousness and doubts popping up along the way. Long endurance events require even longer periods of hard training. Hours upon hours of focused movement certainly have interesting effects on the psyche. In my weaker moments I keep retreating back to the fact that, even with all the training under my belt, there’s no guarantee a race as long as a marathon will go well. Much can happen on race day and from such thoughts most of my uneasiness arises. Without long runs over the last several days to settle my mind, I’ve been flooded with all sorts of scattered energy. A better person might channel the nearly boundless energy into positive action and of course there’s plenty of work to be done around here. My life, on the other hand, has been little more than fits and starts lately. Single-minded attention is difficult when my body craves, more than anything else, to RUN!

So what of it?!?

Nothing. All this matters little in the end— all part of the nearly unavoidable consequence of being a runner who choses to challenge himself in long races on occasion. Life will go on in its extraordinary way with or without my participation and acknowledgment.

And also it is a matter of life and death! I cannot in good conscience devote so much of my life to running and training for marathons and not take it seriously. The man I am now is in great part due to what I’ve endured and learned through running, especially training and completing long, hard runs including three previous marathons. If I’m not going to go out and give it my all then I might as well stay home and watch television— something pathetic like QVC. And by giving it my all, I don’t mean striving obstinately to reach some sort of unrealistic time goal and getting injured along the way.

The all I want to give is my entire being. I want to manifest myself fully out there and completely engage with the course and the varied circumstances I’ll surely encounter over those 26.2 miles. There’ll be much to experience and numerous opportunities to awaken to something new, something deeper than I’ve realized before while running. I want to launch headlong into the course with trust in my training and abilities and with the courage to head joyfully into the unknown. Let it all be covered with a sweet coating of gratitude to all in my life who have helped make it possible to run this marathon. I am ready and glad for the opportunity to run!

I’m reminded of an old Zen koan (teaching story), case 46 from the Mumonkan. It goes like this:

Proceed On from the Top of the Pole

Sekiso Osho asked, “How can you proceed on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole?” Another eminent teacher of old said, “You, who sit on the top of a hundred-foot pole, although you have entered the Way you are not yet genuine. Proceed on from the top of the pole, and you will show your whole body in the ten directions.”

Mumon’s Comment: If you go on further and turn your body about, no place is left where you are not the master. But even so, tell me, how will you go on further from the top of a hundred-foot pole? Eh?

Mumon’s Verse:
He darkens the third eye of insight
And clings to the first mark on the scale.
Even though he may sacrifice his life,
He is only a blind man leading the blind.

Running a marathon can be a lot like stepping off the hundred-foot pole, I think. At least now in my running life I have not reached the point where marathoning fits easily into my comfort zone. There will surely be points where I do encounter previously unknown, or at least not well-known, aspects of my being. And there may be a point where I find myself standing on the edge of a great precipice, running further may bring me somewhere I’ve never really been before.

Let’s see what happens!