David Phillips: Marathoners of all types can provide inspiration

David Phillips
Reflections from my Notebook

Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon barrier, covering a 26.2-mile course in Vienna, Austria, in 1:59:40 last weekend. It’s an impressive breakthrough, but the feat won’t count as a world record, which he already holds, because the event was created specifically for him with the goal of breaking the barrier; he got help from scheduling during ideal weather, mapping out a perfectly flat course, drafting from various pacers who ran with him for stretches and implementing other aids that enabled his quest in this solo marathon.

Still, Kipchoge, a Kenyan who is soft-spoken and always smiling, provided inspiration to many as he conquered an artificial barrier that is as impressive as a runner breaking the four-minute mile in 1954.

Amateur marathoners may find inspiration, but they may also find it hard to relate to his feat. He was running a 4:33 mile pace over 26.2 miles, keeping it up for two hours. The average marathoner can’t run that pace over one mile, or even 100 yards. In fact, most runners cover a marathon distance in twice the time it takes Kipchoge. A significant portion take nearly three times as long as he does.

The goals of most marathon runners are much less ambitious. That’s why many have found more inspiration in a movie that doesn’t have any running accomplishment other than someone finishing a marathon.

“Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a movie that won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is about a woman who sees a doctor in hopes of tricking him into writing a prescription for Adderall, but instead gets a prescription to start taking care of herself, including losing weight, or else she is headed for some serious health problems.

Eventually, the doctor’s advice sinks in and Brittany tries running. The comedy isn’t really about running, though, as it explores the process in which she gradually takes control of her life. The path isn’t a straight line to the finish as there are many sharp curves and wrong turns on her journey to finally accepting herself.

She isn’t the only one trying to figure things out in the movie as other characters dealing with their own problems, such as a divorce or poor self-image, join her in her quest. The actual running isn’t the focus, though, as it takes more to face difficult life challenges, whether it is overcoming self-doubt or running 26.2 miles, than just strapping on some running shoes and going forward.

Brittany had to overcome many daily struggles, often of her own making as she sabotaged many of her relationships due to doubts about her self-worth. It takes time, but she finally clears her hurdles with focus and perseverance.

Her accomplishment of going from an obese woman to finally running the New York City Marathon may not command the attention of the world running community as much as the feats of Kipchoge do. Yet her accomplishment, based on a real life story, is equally impressive as few believed her when she blurted out in the midst of her then chaotic life that she was going to run a marathon.

While Kipchoge sought out his challenge, the majority of us have challenges presented to us as we make our journey through the struggle and strife of life. Some of them are of our own making, as is the case for Brittany, while others are outside of our control.

Yet, how we face those difficult life challenges is key to a healthy life. We can retreat into self-loathing or we can work to prove ourselves worthy.

When Kipchoge talks about running, he doesn’t talk about himself, a trait runners find admirable. He finds a way to weave his accomplishments into the fabric of “humanity.”

He has said, “The world is full of challenges and we need to challenge ourselves.” To face those challenges, the always joyful Kipchoge advocates hard work and “making discipline your lifestyle,” explaining that self-discipline is like building muscle; it has to be done though a routine slowly over time.

“Only the disciplined ones are free in life,” he has said. “If you aren’t disciplined, you are a slave to your moods. You are a slave to your passions. That’s a fact.”

Not everyone will choose to establish self-discipline through running a marathon, but there are many ways to take control of one’s life.

There are also plenty of ways to find inspiration. Seeing an elite marathon runner figure out how to achieve the seemingly impossible is one way. So is seeing an ordinary woman figure out how to get over life’s hurdles and achieve the seemingly possible that is available to nearly all of us if only we find a will.






And if he ran just 1 second slower in pace, even with all of the help, he doesn't break it ...... a really tight time window - you can imagine thinking I'm going to run a 4:33 mile X 26.2 and then the crushing disappoint if you only ran a 4:34 pace. It took a lot of grit and determination, even with assistance, to break that barrier - it will be interesting to see if anyone does it in normal conditions.