In this time of the novel coronavirus, we are all being asked to endure in ways we never imagined in a free, open, robust society. From a severely restricted way of life, to a potentially cratered economy, we have all been tasked so that the virus might pass through the population at a slower, more manageable rate than if left to its own contagious appetites.
But in our relativistic, ADHD society where instant gratification and pliant judgements have been the long-standing norm, rigor and endurance of any kind have become something of an anathema. Yet for runners, endurance is the very soul of our endeavors.
It is both how we train as well as the goal we seek to achieve, standing in the far expanse as a challenge that we know will require our best even as it may, in the process, reveal our limits.
The task then is to first withstand the fire and then to confront the fatigue, to remain resolute and not yield, much less embrace the growing darkness.
As Milton wrote of a blind Samson taunting Harapha of Gath, the strong man of the Philistines, “my heels are fetter’d, but my fists are free,” where, in this case, our fists are the wits and resolve we each carry in measures beyond our knowing until summoned from the deep fires of need and want.
A runner dealing with depletion must impose a self-discipline despite the expanding ruin. He/she must muster what forces that remain and array them in a refusal to capitulate, finding what may suffice when nothing truly can as the entire length of distance is reduced to no more than what one’s fragile resources can manage, be it one more mile, kilometer, block, or even single stride. That is the heroism of endurance, and it can be found from first to last at speeds both fast and slow alike.
Each runner then becomes a rebel in an insurgency against the limitations imposed by what we once were and what we once thought we could be. The inner battle engaged with the body speaking openly against its master, where even prayer sounds hollow and want is a cruel cudgel used to bludgeon the ebbing strength of whatever hope remains.
It is the conflict we all signed up for, knowing that wherever I go there shall I be choosing to explore not just the clement paths of easy transport, but more tellingly the dark desperate corridors within, left to weigh my all too abundant flaws against the malice of Satan’s gravitational urgings.
Upon the course, we stride amidst the unrestrained desire of every other starter, knowing that each is a reflection of the other, whether for good or ill. Knowing, too, that every race is a reliquary of all previous races, each a fuller measure of its accumulated precursors, and soon to live on as an influence upon races yet to be run.
And through it all we discover something new about ourselves, though it never fully tilts to a perfect solipsism. For a racer only discovers his/her profoundest self through the interaction with other racers in a communion that has the potential to visit glory as well as to realize loss and cruel disappointment. And yet, even within a growing darkness, we continue to explore what remains possible, because even in suffering we have been conditioned to find strength.
That is the communal graveyard that must be whistled past if ever salvation is to be achieved.
There is, in its length, a great yearning in an endurance race. So much has been invested in preparation, so much has been placed on the line and now been run out to this forefront position until we are faced with that one never-ending question, now what?
Therein lies the measure of that which must be endured. Therein lies the measure of ourselves.
Run on. Be well. Stay safe.