By Gary Elbert
A clear crisp bank holiday Sunday morning greeted twenty thousand hardy souls in Merrion Square. The atmosphere was full of cautious optimism and nervous energy, the streets of Dublin coated in golden promise. Shedded orange and brown hued leaves were joined by gloves, hats, and training tops. The amount of gear discarded on those early kilometres would fill a sports shop for a year.
A man dressed as a Rubik’s Cube limbers up at the start line. The faces are determined, readying themselves for an extraordinary examination of the human body, conscious of what may go wrong but placing themselves in the eye of danger. People underestimate the fear attached to accepting the challenge of running a marathon.
It is a stern test of human spirit and a dice roll with danger, with no personal financial reward. A type of challenge that offers a deeper redemptive quality not easily found in everyday life.
Off we went. Cautious, settling in behind the four – hour pacemaker who ran with red balloons. Pulsing through the city centre and into Stoneybatter, and glimpsing traditional Dublin inner city life. Well wishers border the road urging us on, old men clap holding the Sunday paper under their elbows.
There are moments in the race where humanity’s thirst for brightness, unity, and optimism transformed my brain. Endless smiles and happy support elevated me onto brief clouds of euphoria as children offered their palms eagerly expecting recognition.
One kid shouted, “Free jellies here!” somewhere in Harold’s Cross while later another shouted into a microphone, “Hurry up will yis, ye are slowing down.” Runners laughed along with the crowd, savouring these bright beautiful moments of sheer joy amidst the rising pain.
The dream – like states such as these that a marathon delivers are unlikely to be found in everyday existence. These moments are the central hubs of ecstasy that deepen the marathon experience. The land beyond our comfort zones serves up deeper moments of our beauty and humanity when materialistic greed and competition is stripped away, however fleetingly.
The marathon is a snapshot sample of our intrinsic beauty and fragility; showcasing humans need to drive forward, to overcome pain, to better themselves, to succeed.
The striving, this yearning for something more than washing machines and social media provide the central drive for such events. Indeed, marathons are essentially anti scientific, illogical, and irrational, yet their popularity has grown exponentially since the rise of technology.
Reaching the Southside of the city these areas are greener, but the crowds are the same; positive, happy, and feeding off the conveyor belt of stubbornness and spirit trundling past. Students of psychology will know of the social facilitation concept. Marathon runners will testify to it. Something happens when approaching a vociferous crowd, an invisible carpet of energy gives a gliding sensation as you pick up speed, the cheers, urges, and smiles reinvigorating you. For this race, class, politics, money… none of it matters.
Our determination, our inner spirit, our drive to overcome shines through like the gorgeous sunlight streaming through the autumn leaves as we head for the last few miles.
My legs have seized up now. Two to three days of pain guaranteed.
As I drive forward into Merrion Square the finish line awaits. On each side, strangers urge me home.
3.54 is my time but that doesn’t matter.
A middle aged German man with no English talks to me as we limp towards our medals.
“Well done,” I say.
“Danke,” he replies, his eyes beaming with relief, joy, and appreciation.
We share this moment of pained bliss, imprisoned by linguistic variation, before parting ways.
We did it. We achieved it.
And the pain of tomorrow or the next day or the next day will not diminish this feeling or this memory.
Faith in humanity has been restored and rebooted.
Photo courtesy of author