Why on earth do people run marathons??

There are many things I do not understand in this world including:

  1. Why there were no binoculars on the bridge of the Titanic.
  2. Why Australia doesn’t have loads of solar farms.
  3. Why people run marathons.

Recently my dearly beloved husband ran the New York Marathon for charity. I understand the concept of raising money for a good cause, but I am at a complete loss to understand why anyone would want to ‘run themselves into the ground’ to do so. What is more, I have a sneaking suspicion that my husband enjoyed doing it! The inner workings of my husband’s mind have always been a complete mystery to me and continue to be so.

My husband trained for ten months prior to the run. Ten months of riding or running to work and then going to the gymn  after work. Ten months of eating no carbs and doing three hour runs on Sunday. Who does that sort of thing? Sure, he is ex-army, but he is still a relatively normal human being.

Trees and sky scrapers, on a beautiful morning in New York.
Trees and sky scrapers, on a beautiful morning in New York.

We got to New York a few days before the run in late October 2016. Already many New Yorkers couldn’t help telling us how nervous they were about the forthcoming election. Since New York has always voted democrat, little did they know what they were in for.

Politics aside, it is hard not to be beguiled by New York. It is a city that quite literally has something for everybody. Whatever food you want to eat, clothes you want to buy or entertainment you want to partake in, it is there for you. New Yorkers thrive in this city and seem to have a confidence to be themselves, no matter how bizarre that may appear to any one else.

Myself and some of the Australian Indigenous marathon runners at Battery Point.
Myself and some of the Australian Indigenous marathon runners at Battery Point.

In the days leading up to the marathon we met many wonderful people who were also running. Their reasons ranged from celebrating birthdays and anniversaries to raising money. Running a marathon to celebrate a birthday just seems like plain madness to me. Where is the fun in that type of celebration?

I first met some of the participants of the Australian Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP) one morning whilst sightseeing at Battery Point. They were having their photo taken. Seeing them, and the Aussie connection, caused a wave of homesickness and I asked if I could also take their photo. The kindly gentleman taking theirs invited me to join in and he would take the photo for me. Never one to shy away from attention, I happily accepted. That gentleman turned out to be Robert DeCastella.

Australian marathon legend, Robert DeCastella.
Australian marathon legend, Robert DeCastella.

Australian marathon legend Robert DeCastella, fondly known to the majority of Australians as ‘Deek’ founded the Indigenous Marathon Project (IMP) 11 years ago. The aim of the IMP is to provide training and skills to Indigenous young people using what Deek has to offer; specialist knowledge in how to run a marathon.

The next day I was able to meet the participants of the IMP at a fund raising lunch. Deek encourages participants to assume leadership roles and he asked each member to get up in front of the crowd and speak about what motivated them to run the New York marathon. I listened to their stories of watching as members of their family and community died way too young due to alcohol, drugs or suicide. Such significant numbers of death in those short lives. That sort of thing must have a psychological impact. I heard how these young people loved their families and community and wanted to help them but until now had felt helpless to know what to do.

Later, when I was chatting to a small group of IMP participants, I asked them why they were attracted to running, and told them I just could not understand why anyone would want to do it. They laughed and explained that until they had started running they had felt any one doing it was crazy too. Some had seen members of their community training for the IMP and laughed at them. “We thought they were completely mad and would sling off at them”. But nearly 200 young Indigenous people apply to participate in the program every year and only 12 were accepted in 2016. Deek explains that he is looking for ‘exceptional’ young people. And he found them.

Adrian Dodson, head coach and former participant.
Adrian Dodson, head coach and former participant, introduces the 2016 participants.

Most of these young people had never run before but for six months, often completely alone, they trained.  They trained like they never had before and they stuck it out. I couldn’t hide my confusion and asked what they got out of it. They explained that not only did they receive a Certificate 3 in Fitness and gained leadership skills, but they also got endorphin rushes, and felt fitter and healthier than ever before.

They said that they had also became more confident and mentally stronger because the good things that were happening to them were due to their own actions.  They found an inner strength that they did not know they had and this had helped them to get through when they ‘hit a wall’. I finally felt that I could understand why people would run marathons. This was something I could appreciate.

When I caught up with my husband that night I asked him what had inspired him when he ‘hit a wall’. “I have no idea”, he replied. Well, different courses for different horses I guess.



1 thought on “Why on earth do people run marathons??

  1. Tim Coggin Reply

    I had heard about the IMP on the radio. Can’t believe u bumped into them over there, & didn’t realise the old guy taking the photo was Deeks. Great article..

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