ANCHORAGE — In the 1948 film, the Naked City, the narrator tells us, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.” I’ve often thought about that quote in the context of marathons and marathon runners. To me, with every marathon that I support, I feel that I get a step closer to being able to express how the marathon is not just a collection of stories, but the culmination of a series of long journeys that is much too complex to put our minds around. I got a step closer this weekend at the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage.
The Anchorage event has been one of my favorite marathons for some time. What it has to offer is unlike almost any mid-size marathon in the United States. It is well organized. It offers all of the amenities that you’d expect, like great aid stations that even serve oranges and pretzels. And, perhaps most importantly, it is delivered against a stunning backdrop on the edges of the Alaska wilderness.
Perhaps that’s why so many people’s marathon journeys bring them to this remote part of the world. In this place, they can achieve their marathon goals, but they can lose themselves in the woods for time while doing it.Many of the people that come to Anchorage for the Mayor’s Marathon are brought by the Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Society’s “Team In Training” program, which like many charities provides a coaching program for marathon runners and walkers to prepare for their first marathon. And while many people in the broader media — and perhaps even the broader running culture — like to flog charity running groups for bringing people to marathons that aren’t traditional runner types, they have missed a substantial point in making their criticisms. The point is that the journey these people are on is so much larger and more poignant than just running a marathon. The marathon is just the last step, or perhaps the first, in an emotional journey that most of us don’t have the capacity to understand.
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