“What made you want to run a marathon?”
I get asked this question a lot ever since I signed up for the 2023 Bellingham Bay Marathon. It’s not something I broadcast, but once it slides into conversation this is usually the question I get.
“I don’t know. I’ve just always wanted to,” is usually my unsatisfying answer.
I’ve always enjoyed running, the feeling of pushing myself past my physical limits, proving to myself I’m capable of more than I think I am. But I guess the answer is more nuanced than that.
Recently, I’ve been navigating some unexpected health concerns. Nothing too serious, but enough to make me pause and face the fact that we are not completely in control of our lives.
We like to think we call the shots, that by eating the right things and moving our bodies we’ll always get a thumbs up from our doctor. Spoiler alert: this is not the case.
One aspect of this health detour was the discovery that I have hypertension, or blood pressure that is ridiculously high. A common problem, but less so in your 20s. On the outside, I look like a healthy young adult. But according to my blood pressure reading, I’m a 60-year-old man who has been eating burgers and smoking every day of his life. Being a 26-year-old who’s been active and vegetarian for the majority of her life, this was unsettling to hear.
As my doctor handed me a pamphlet with tips about lowering blood pressure, he acknowledged the gesture was essentially meaningless. The only answer was medication. My lifestyle already matched 90% of what the packet instructed. The first page offered tips to cut back on meat consumption. The next suggested getting into exercise by going on more walks. I hadn’t eaten meat in years. I had completed a nine-mile run just days before. I was doing everything right, and yet, I was on track for a stroke or heart attack way too young.
Suddenly I felt less like a 20-something with plenty of time to figure things out, and more like someone nearing the end. I know, I know, that’s a dramatic conclusion. I’m taking the medication now, and my blood pressure is stabilizing. But it’s true that having hypertension at such a young age puts me at risk of living a shorter life.
Now I try to forget these problems I have no control over by doing something I can control and enjoy: lacing up my running shoes and hitting the road or trail. I’m not alone in running for both physical and mental therapy. Recently, I spoke with Lynden resident Julie Kroontje, organizer of the Tractor Trot race, and we bonded over our shared love of running to work out our issues.
On a less existential note: running is fun.
I’m fortunate to have a friend in town who enjoys running as much as I do. Once a week, my run is simply an excuse to catch up with a friend. We ran the Bellingham half marathon last year and now we’ll run the full in September. It’s nice to have a friend alongside you during this fun, yet challenging journey.
While it is tempting to think of running, or any physical activity, as a means to an end: Do the thing, be healthy. I’d argue we should all look at it simply as a way to feel alive right now. Do it because it’s fun. In whatever form. Whether it be biking, hiking or pickleball.
I used to run with the caveat of needing to feel I had done enough. If I didn’t work up a good sweat, if I didn’t feel like I had burned some serious calories – I would be frustrated I had failed.
Now, I try to run for the fun and satisfaction of it. I hope it will improve my health, but I try to relax and let the medication do what it does. I accept the fact there are things I have no control over, like the blood coursing through my veins. I’m just glad it’s still flowing at all.
I’m lucky to live in a time where I can take a pill every day and extend my life because of it. Where doctors can take a look at my internal organs and catch when they are plotting against me. Where I can sign up for a race with a friend to take my mind off these scary things none of us want to think about.
Why do people run marathons?
Maybe we’ll find out someday there is a glitch in our brains making us want to push ourselves to the point we are unable to walk the next day. Each person has their reasons, whether it be health or fun, or a mixture of the two.
For me, the reason is similar to that old idiom: “Why does a man climb a mountain? Because it’s there.”
Why do I want to run a marathon? Because I’m alive, I can, and I want to feel more alive while I can.
-- Sarah McCauley is staff reporter with the Lynden Tribune and Ferndale Record newspapers. Reach her at email@example.com.