Of Mountains and Marathons

By: Kevin Irwin

Recently, I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel with my kids. It followed a group of climbers trying to summit on Mt Everest. As I watched, I began to think about the similarities of mountain climbing and marathon running. Perhaps this connection is obvious, but I have both climbed mountains and run marathons and never really gave it much thought until that very moment.

The first thing that came to mind is how incomprehensible the activity can seem to someone on the outside. As marathoners, this is probably something we encounter frequently. People are incredulous that someone would want to run 26.2 miles. Even with this perspective, watching climbers risk life and limb at 29,000ft., made me wonder why he does it.  (Although it was more a question along the lines of whether each was being brave or foolhardy, not a question of motivation.) While I cannot speak for him, I suspect his motivations are similar to my own. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “We chose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” There is no challenge in the easy; it is the hard which tests our mettle.

The second thing which struck me was the capricious nature of both activities. On the mountain, there will be events beyond your control – weather, altitude sickness. In the case of the documentary, it was dysentery that struck the climbers, sapping their strength.  In the marathon, same thing. It’s not a question of if something will happen, it’s a matter of when. Regardless of how prepared or experienced you are, something unexpected will arise. What will you do when it does?

These two threads of thought boil down to one thing: struggle. To me, what makes marathons (and mountain climbing) rewarding is the chance to question my limits. The battle, not the result, is what matters. Did I fight valiantly or give in meekly? Sure, I might not have reached the summit, but there’s always another mountain to climb.


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