This Saturday, at the crack of dawn, the city will begin gathering on sidewalks and storefronts, at street corners and up in trees, to observe and support the men and women running the Country Music Marathon.
At every mile of the 26.2-mile race, bands will play. Family members will thrust signs in the air, spectators will holler words of encouragement, and for one brief, shining day, the city will rally for those who are pulling off one of the most strenuous physical events known to mankind.
It was in 490 B.C. that the soldier Pheidippides ran from a battlefield in Marathon, Greece to Athens. Upon arriving, he is said to have uttered one word about the battle“Victory”before falling over dead.
This weekend, many people are going to feel like that soldier. We hope none expire, but plenty will feel like they might. As a feat of physical endurance, few contests rival a marathon. Our city’s begins innocently enough, at Centennial Park, where everyone will no doubt begin in a jubilantly optimistic frame of mind (and where many runners will be shamelessly and immodestly dropping their drawers for one last liquid elimination). But by mile 10, even those who are in top shape will begin to feel the pounding their legs are taking. By mile 15, participants will begin to feel the overwhelming blow to every system in their bodies. Studies have shown that, by mile 20, marathoners have depleted just about all fuel available, that the muscles have nowhere to turn to find energy, and the body essentially starts eating itself. And during the last 6.2 miles, runners will try to cope with the intense pain by contemplating the beer and hot shower that still will seem so far away. At this stage, all a person wants is for the whole thing to end. Finally, it does.
Running is one of those activities you only appreciate by doing, and committing to a marathon requires hideous amounts of training. For those of us Type-As who find satisfaction in setting goals and achieving them, the marathon is ideal. To complete a marathon, one must adhere to a rigid calendar of prescribed daily runs, with little room for error. The payoff, of course, comes in feeling one’s body harden, lighten, improve and finally become worthy for such a competition.
The joys of running are both solitary and social. On the one hand, only one person does the running. It is intensely individual, requiring you to go inside of yourself for support and sustenance. On the other hand, tackling a difficult, long run with a friend or with a large group of runners provides not just idle chatter to get your mind off the difficulty of the endeavor, but also a sense of group accomplishment. After a long run with friends, everyone can sit back and reflect on what the group has done together. The accomplishmentand hardshipis communal.
And so it is that running can become a community ritual. That this weekend’s marathon courses in and out of Nashville neighborhoods, past hordes of screaming fans in the front yards of their homes and businesses, makes it a citywide event. For those who take part in it, the Country Music Marathon pays witness to the city along its course; by the same token, the people along the course pay homage to the people who’ve committed to just over 26 miles of pain.
At the marathon’s finish line, which is next to the imposing Titans’ Coliseum, viewers can only stand in astonishment. For our money, the people most worth watching are those who start coming in some four hours after the race started. From that point until the event’s conclusion, marathonersmany of them first-timerswill have reached their goals. These aren’t the natural runners. These aren’t the young runners. These are the ones who have had to gut it out.
Having paid in blood, sweat and tears, these are the ones whose joy and exultation is so palpable as they cross the finish line. At previous Country Music Marathons, we have seen quite a few of these runners round the last bend and, with only 200 yards or so left to run, break down in tears. We fully understand. Our hearts leap up for them too.
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