Last week, nine of my retired teacher pals lunched at a garden restaurant.
We studied the menu, looking for a no-holds-barred, high-calorie lunch. This group doesn't waste a minute worrying about the Mediterranean diet.
My former principal called out, "Congratulations, champion, on first place, 70 years old, L.A. Marathon!"
Teachers looked up from menus to give me a heartfelt, "attagirl."
Then one said, "Now maybe you'll do something fun for your next project."
We all laughed, but quickly returned to the serious business of whether to order bacon-encrusted halibut or the restaurant's specialty, deep-fried chicken.
Another restaurant, five days earlier, the subject was the same — my first place in the L.A. Marathon — but the group was different. Marathoners celebrated memories of long, hard miles during months of demanding workouts.
Nobody in that group would have called L.A.'s 85-degree marathon fun. In fact, even the fastest marathoner suffered from the swelter.
However, nobody in the runners' group suggested that I quit running marathons for something more fun. Why?
1.) Runners may look alike with skinny faces and lean bodies but vary widely in professions and politics. However, there's an essential unity. We stick to a task.
There are moments in a race when mind and muscle fiber screams, "Quit this!" but finishers surpass those moments. That is why runners respect the six-hour marathoners as much as the three-and-half-hour speedsters. We all persist; we finish.
2.) Practice workouts hurt. Races hurt more.
Most racers sustain a faster pace for longer distance than they did in practice runs.
Pain from hard work intensifies the joy of the finish.
After my first marathon, I repeated a thousand times, "I don't have to do this anymore!"
Later I said, "I did this." Nobody can take it away.
3.) Runners get the side benefits of health. Fewer statins. Lower blood sugar. Lower blood pressure. Rare hip or knee replacements. Running is not a guarantee of perfect health, but it's one of the reliable contributors.
4.) Finally, the strange phenomenon of the on/off switch. In the last miles of a race, particularly a bad-weather race, runners say, "This is misery, and I ain't never gonna do it again."
A few hours pass, hours of hobbling on shredded quads and crumbling calves, a long, hot shower tossed in.
Something starts brewing underneath the sore muscles, hidden behind congratulations from friends, camaraderie with fellow runners. A powerful cerebral surge bursts forth, "I want to run another marathon, tomorrow!"
So, to the question from my teacher-friends about changing to something more fun — the garden restaurant's hot brownie covered in frozen vanilla ice cream was a strong competitor for deep-pleasure stimulation. But, still, for long-lasting "stick-to-your-sides feelings" of hard-won achievement, I'll take the marathon. It's fun.