It was the London Marathon today. It is an annual event and many of us living in London somehow manage to connect with it. The buzz actually starts few months before as friends and colleagues start to train and talk about it. To be honest, when people tell me about their marathon plans, I often wonder why they are doing this to themselves. Most people sign up to raise funds for charities, others to push themselves – get a sense of achievement, etc. I am sure everyone has a good reason to sign up but I feel that one has to have a lot of determination to run a distance of 26.2 miles in the not so nice London weather.
I have often debated with myself if I would ever sign up for a marathon. For a start, I am not an early riser so to sign up to run across London on a cold morning is not really my idea of fun. Having said that, I have in one way or another connected with the London marathon year after year.
During my first few years in London, I used to travel to Tower Bridge, secure a nice spot and cheer on the runners as they went past. The atmosphere was great and there was a sense of enthusiasm in the air. One could sense how encouraged the runners felt when they heard people in the crowd cheer them and shout out their name. This always gave me a warm feeling; I felt that I had contributed to something bigger.
I now live in a flat that is on the marathon route so I automatically become a part of the whole marathon process. Weeks before the marathon there are markings about travel diversion on the day, we get pamphlets in our post boxes to remind us that the marathon will pass by and that buses, trains, etc will all take a different for the duration of the marathon.
This morning as I opened my curtains, I saw people lining up the street to see runners go by and cheer their friends as they passed. As usual, this made me smile. No matter what I think about the marathon, it is great to see the feeling of one-ness and community that events such as this create. I generally break the marathon in three parts:
The fast lane: The first ones to pass by – the fastest men, closely followed by the fastest females. Then there was a gap before the next in the fast lane followed. The crowd was really loud – some were clapping, others had whistles, it was all just nice. Then there was a gap while the rest of the runners caught up with the fastest few.
The crowd: they arrived together – lots of runners going past. Some of them were absorbed in their world and maybe just wanted to make sure that they finish the marathon within their target times. Others seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere, waving back to people as they called out their name. Then there were some dressed up as cartoons, rhinos, fairies, etc – either to represent their charities or maybe just for fun. Each time one of the rhino dressed runner went by, the spectators together called out “Rhino, rhino, rhino ….”.
It was great seeing all this. The spectators were getting involved by calling out the names of those who had them on printed on their shirts. Some folk were giving out sweets to keep the sugar levels of the runners high. There were others who were encouraging them to keep going.
It was like a sea of people going past. There must have been thousands who went by every few minutes. This went on for a while.
The slow lane: These are the ones who lagged behind the crowd. The numbers started to drop as time passed. Some were walking, some struggling to continue. The spectators ware their supportive best, cheering them on and encouraging them to keep going. After some time, I saw some buses and vans come along. I think these were to give the stragglers a chance to stop walking and maybe sit on the bus for the rest of the way.
It is these folk that impact me the most; they sometimes bring tears to my eyes. I think they are really brave to have signed up for an event like this despite knowing their limitations and are still so determined to go on till the finishing line. They have a choice mid-way take the easy route and get on the bus but they choose not to. I don’t know how long these people take to complete the marathon but for me, they are the real winners.
As I sat by the window today absorbing the atmosphere and watching people go by, I couldn’t help but think how similar the marathon is to life.
At various points in my life, I have found myself in one of the above three lanes. I am fortunate that there have been aspects where I have been in the fast lane and succeeded at what others may find difficult.
I have also been a part of the crowd, just walked along with them, not distinguishable from the others I am walking with. This is probably the most common phase of our lives and the one we spend most time in. We are part of a bigger group and just go along with people – board the train, go to work, come back home, etc. It takes a lot of effort to move from the crowd stage to go into the fast lane but those who work hard and have the determination do make a place for themselves in the fast lane. However, it is not possible to always be in the fast lane in all aspects of our lives.
And then there are times when things don’t go my way. When I struggle against the forces to work hard to achieve what I want. There are times when I know that I will have to put on a lot of work to achieve success – sometimes I am not even clear what success will look like and if I will get there. This is the ‘slow lane’ – I have spent time in this stage and hand on heart, there are still some aspects of life where I feel I am in this stage or maybe still behind the start line.
I believe that this is the stage when I learn a lot about myself, my determination, my true character. Maybe that’s why I am so deeply impacted by the last few runners who straggle behind in the marathon. These people are given a chance to give up, but they still continue, they still go on – they are the real heroes.
Of course, the spectators are an equally important part of the event and our lives– cheering people as they walk past, supporting them, and distributing sweets. They create a sense of oneness and community – they become involved with the runners, support them.
In this day and age of online communication, where our feelings are reduced to emoticons and our thoughts are sets of data, it is heartening to see a display of bonding between humans.
It is tangible evidence that we still exist, feel and support each other. There are many people I have to thank for my successes, those who stood by me, supported me, cheered me on, wiped my tears, picked me up when I fell and encouraged me to go on.
So although I said at the start of the post that I wasn’t sure if I will run a marathon, it seems to me that life is a marathon in itself. We are all probably part of a marathon all the time.
Let’s be mindful of this and support each other through our successes and failures as we move from fast lane to slow or vice versa. Let’s sometimes take a break and enjoy being part of the crowd or wear the hat of a spectator and cheer those who are walking past, making them smile, and encouraging them to keep trying.
This morning out of the window, I saw something very nice
I saw a sea of people going by, a sea of life
Many went by, in lanes fast and slow,
In between there was a crowd, enjoying themselves, putting on a great show.
There were also those, who stood to cheer,
Happy with others’ success, clapping enthusiastically, giving them a steer.
All working towards an aim, heading in the same direction
Of life, our journey, this is such a true reflection.
These days there aren’t often such examples we see
When people come together, create a sense of community.
These are the lessons that from sport, we can learn,
Life is a game, live it, be together, go on … have some fun!