It’s Paris Marathon Time Again and so we asked marathoner and writer Shari Leslie Segall (who has run and completed 30 marathons, including 23 in Paris) how and why she (and nearly 59,999 others) continues to run the Paris Marathon year after year. She responded:
If you are lucky enough to be able to watch from the sidelines (or impatient enough to imperatively need to back your car right then and there out into the flowing phalanx of folks asking for only one six-hour [out of the other 8,754] period of traffic-free footspace per year, or hungry enough to absolutely have to try to find a micro-hole in said phalanx through which to scamper–guilty smirk on your face–across the street to the bakery), you will probably notice that although these thousands of intrepid souls chasing a 42.195-kilometer/26.2-mile goal might appear to lack some sanity, what they certainly do not lack is motivation. While we know that it’s career-extending glory and often considerable prize money that keep the elite runners going, what about the back-of-the-packers? Below is a very abbreviated sampling from our bag of inspirational tricks:
- my reward: Everyone has their most special of special rewards. Special enough to be reserved for only the most extraordinary exploits. It could be a bag of chocolate-covered marshmallow teddy bears (the kind they do not eat during the year for fear of diminishing the fitness they’ll need to run the marathon for which the chocolate-covered marshmallow teddy bears will be their reward). It could be hours spent in a steaming bubble bath. It could be an extravagant shopping-spree. Whatever it is, it’s the prize that keeps feet–and, crucially, consciousness–fixed on that finish line.
- dedicating kilometers/miles: Runners who associate each attained kilometer/mile with a person (or animal or cartoon character or video-game icon, etc.) whom they know (or would like to know or would like to have known) stay so busy coming up with the next dedicatee that they do not see the distance fly by. When they run (!) out of family members and friends, there are always co-workers, favorite store-clerks, their mail deliverer, their pet, their beloved first-grade teacher, Lara Croft, Sir Laurence Olivier, Joan of Arc, Minnie Mouse, the movie star whose spouse they wish they were. Enough for the dedicators to want their next race to be an ultra.
- perspective: Some participants remind themselves that even if they run this thing so slowly that by the time they reach the halfway mark the winner is already home, showered and digesting his pizza, the daunting effort does represent only (measuring in quarter-days) one in a life of 36,500 (for a 25-year-old), and possibly even 116,800 (for an 80-year-old, and, yes, in many events there are competitors even older than that–often with a motivation quotient that puts the rest of the field to shame).
- self-deception: Nah–pretending they’re not pounding the ground at the rate of 180-or-so steps per minute for seemingly interminable hours over a seemingly endless course does not work. They’re truly doing it, feeling it, knowing it. That knee pain is real. As is the nagging notion that this will probably be the only day in the history and future of Earth containing more than 24 hours–during the better part of which they fear they might still be in hot pursuit of some semblance of stopping. But that agony can be put to good use: When motivation begins to flag, some entrants come up with the brilliant idea of convincing themselves that this is their last long-distance race. “Yup! No more! None. Never. Ever. Better give it all I got! Go out with a bang! After all, there won’t be any others where this came from! Right? Right!” With competitors all the while knowing they’ll be signing up for the next one as soon as they get out of that nice steaming bubble bath this evening (see above), this trick brings with it the extra added attraction of promising more sleep, as cutting the racing schedule down to zero has the same effect on the need for pre-dawn training runs.
- bragging rights (or at least compliment-receiving rights): If completing a marathon weren’t such a daunting, admiration-worthy feat, the incentive-challenged wouldn’t be in this position in the first place, grasping at whatever psychological straws will lumberingly get them from one kilometer/ mile-marker to the tauntingly remote next. “Oh, it’s nothing!” they’ll say to their impressed officemates the next day, all the while soaking in the kudos like parched earth in a rainstorm. “Cumawn, ma–stop! Anybody can do this if they put their mind to it!” they’ll answer, hoping mother sends the finish-line selfies to every cousin in the family tree. (And rightly so. Revel in it: These are the same officemates and mothers who a week from now will be back to their nit-picking/“stop-dripping-water-on-my-newly-mopped-floor” ways!) When you got it, flaunt it, and the mere thought of those waves of praise carries racers along in their wake.
- endorphins: It’s no coincidence that “endorphin,” the chemical produced by the brain during intensive, repetitive exercise like running, rowing and swimming, seems to rhyme with “morphine.” It is morphine, its name being a contraction of “endogenous” (i.e., manufactured “within,” or by, the body) and “morphine.” And it has a version of the effect of other “ine” drugs, such as nicotine and caffeine, as well. It’s total dope for runners–positive dope, they will say, but dope nonetheless. If a medium-effort hour-long recreational jog produces a “runner’s high” that lasts until maybe even lunchtime, one can only imagine the boffo-punch that 42.195 kilometers / 26.2 miles stretched over endorphin-drenched hours can deliver. This athletic variation on banging their head against the wall because it feels so good when they stop is all some racers need to make it to the end.
- food: Don’t be deceived. Some of those runners you glimpse out the window next to the sofa on which you’ve been sitting for the past five hours binge-watching the small screen while binge-eating the big portions are thin not likely thanks to genetics. Or not even, to a great extent, thanks to running. They’re thin probably thanks to running and deprivation. Self-imposed, agonizingly uncomfortable, purposeful, voluntary, goal-oriented, gratification-delaying deprivation of all but the most necessary, healthy, weight-maintaining, fitness-favoring sustenance. For them, after hours of grueling exertion, with–all day–only a couple handfuls of raisins to be had at the intermittent refreshment stations, the finish line turns into a giant [fill-in-the-blank (ice cream gorge, taco spree, sugar-salt-fat fest)] waiting to happen. “Heeeeeere I come!”
- speaking of which, there are the–how do we put this?—well-developed derrieres: If these back-of-the-packers are…well…at the back of the pack, that means they are in among the slowest, least fit participants, some of whom are there as a result of a last-minute-before-event-registration-closes alcohol-stoked dare; some out of total ignorance as to the breath-taking (literally!) distance they are being asked to cover; some with no intention of doing more than several kilometers/miles, just to soak up that exhilarating marathon-atmosphere they’ve heard so much about. In many of these cases, these are not skeletal people. In many of these cases, the incongruity of their girth along such a demanding route verges on the surreal. In many of these cases, their thinner fellow-stragglers have no trouble going the distance as long as they keep whispering to themselves: “If someone with a behind like THAT can finish this, I can!”
The 43rd Paris Marathon is Sunday 14 April 2019. Come on out with your hunting-horn or Mick Jagger on the boom box and cheer Shari on! You’ll recognize her as the one wearing the FUSAC cap! It kicks off at 8am on the Champs-Elysées, passes along the Louvre on the way to Bois de Vincennes, then along the banks of the Seine, past the Eiffel Tower and through Bois de Boulogne to the arrival on Avenue Foch.