The Middle Ages

Musings on this marathon we call life

I'm still suffering leg cramps, and my brain doesn't seem to be working at 100%. I know, I know, how could I tell, right?

In any case, I survived my second marathon. It still hurts to move; it also hurts to not move.

One friend described a marathon as "a crazed act." Fair enough.

Another remarked of my six hours of agony: "Great finish for an old guy."

In marathons, all finishes are great finishes.

I'm not sure we need marathons, with life being such a long, demanding slog to begin with. What is it about the human psyche that seeks out additional punishment?

If you've never done one, a marathon is nothing like a spirited two-hour hike or even a tough run in the sand. Those kinds of activities leave you blitzed but with an aura of achievement ... a relaxed weariness ... a healthy glow.

A marathon just destroys you. Typically, 20% of participants don't finish. The other 80% vow to never do it again.

Interesting that the L.A. Marathon came on Feb. 14. My funny Valentine and all that. There's really nothing humorous about running 26.2 miles, yet as with funerals and other dire situations, everything becomes a little funny.

In Mile 4, there was a family handing out free chili dogs to runners. You hear a lot of advice on how to survive a marathon. Rarely do you see chili dogs mentioned. I mean, what did I have to lose? Besides my life, that is. So I passed on the free chili dog, perhaps the only time I will ever do that.

A marathon reminds us that there is something within us that resists the ticking of the clock. Two of the greatest athletes of our time, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant, are currently finding out that they couldn't outfox the clock. There is a melancholy in their smiles, a wistfulness in the way they carry themselves. A little self-reflection never hurt anybody, especially fading demigods.

"We have defective mythologies that ignore masculine depth of feeling, assign men a place in the sky instead of earth, teach obedience to the wrong powers, work to keep men boys," wrote Robert Bly.

So?

Look, all I know is that standard definitions of male virility reach back thousands of years to punishing endeavors like this. There is something in any long endurance race that scratches some animal itch. These days, as many women run them as men, proving that animal itches plague all of us.

Was there ever any doubt?

Yep, you just have to laugh at marathons, just like everything else. On the back of my race number, where runners list emergency contacts, I listed Cagney & Lacey. I figured that both have police powers, which would help in an emergency situation. And though I don't really know them, I still stand a far better chance of them showing up than my own busy wife.

During Sunday's marathon I never had the feeling that I was harming myself, other than with every tortured step. By Mile 10, I was running on torn blisters. Probably not the best way to spend a Sunday morning. But I've been to youth soccer tournaments in San Bernardino that were far worse. Not to mention most weddings.

Speaking of kids, it was great to see so many teens running the marathon. Young people need marathons, for they need to appreciate what big challenges can do for you — that big challenges are the best challenges. That life's no sprint.

But the middle-aged? They know all about challenge. Not sure they need another one.

Because an adult would be the first to tell a teenager this: Marathons aren't that difficult.

Know what's difficult? Real stuff. Risking everything to start your own small business; providing for a family every day for 30 years; caring for your kids while caring for your aging folks and not being sure whether you have enough love, energy and resources to cover everyone.

Know what's difficult? Watching a loved one struggle with illness; losing a great and special friend.

Compared with all that, a marathon is 26.2 glasses of chilled champagne. Compared to life, a marathon is a big, marvelous chili dog.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Twitter: @erskinetimes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 20, 2016, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Musings on this marathon we call life - THE MIDDLE AGES" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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