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Post-marathon reflections

As promised, this is a final blog-post on running and the marathon. These are some reflections from this experience which I have finally found the time to put to paper.

To set the background, my first attempts at long-distance running started in October 2009, when I had to start doing a regular sports activity as a requirement for my President's Award. To cut a long story short, in a few months I was absorbed in the simple beauty of the sport, and the dream to one day run the marathon was born (and by the marathon, I mean THE marathon: the 42.195km run). I wanted to understand the aura and thrill surrounding the event, and I knew that I could only understand it by taking part in it.

In the final weeks leading to the event, I started to write a series on my blog entitled "My Journey to the Marathon".  It was meant as a way to keep myself motivated, but it ended up helping me discover the positive effect running was having on my of life.

I discovered that the marathon involves a deep personal encounter. In those last kilometres when your body is crying to stop, but in some way or another you manage to keep going, you discover that truly, the human being is not just flesh and blood. Flesh and blood on their own would have stopped and given up much before the 42.195km mark. In those last few kilometres, you discover another part of yourself, an inner source of power and determination which can only be encountered in such unique experiences.

I also realized that in many ways, the marathon is a microcosm of life. In that one run, you experience it all. The over-enthusiasm which you must control, the moments of doubt in which you must have faith, the moments of despair in which you must find hope, the moments of loneliness in which you need encouragement. It's about tasting the bottom of the pit, and working your way back up to glory. It's about hitting walls, and finding the strength to go straight through them. And it's also about the people you meet along the way: the ones you run part of the race with, the ones who leave you behind to follow their goal, the ones you leave behind to follow your own. But at that end, we all re-unite at the same place, because it's the same distance we run, the same finish-line we cross, the same experience we go through.

That's what the marathon's about. That's what life's about.

The difference is that in life, you don't know when the finish-line will come. But you only wish that when that bigger finish-line is reached, you can open your arms with the same pride, with the same joy, and with the same feeling of accomplishment, as you did on the day you ran the marathon. And hope that like St. Paul you'll be able to say: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

In fact, I think I was wrong in my series title. The marathon in itself is never the last destination of a journey. It is part of the journey. A journey that goes on. That's why people return to do it again. Because they'll want to experience that inner encounter again. They'll want to experience, once again, the victory of belief over reason. They'll want to remind themselves, once again, that even when you feel as if you've got nothing left, even when you feel at the point of despair, if you keep believing in yourself and keep moving forward, at one point you'll taste the joy of success and achievement. That if you set your mind on it, at some point your dream will come true. And that memory ultimately helps you in your everyday life.

There was only one negative aspect in the Malta Marathon: the reception of some of the general public. While city marathons abroad manage to engage the whole community into the event as either runners, walkers, supporters or volunteers, here we still experience cars hanking their horns with impatience and drivers shouting and grumbling because of traffic deviations, unaware of what's taking place in front of their eyes. While big busy cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, London, Berlin and others, manage to close off their major streets from traffic for the whole morning, here we have to loop around the same Ta' Qali area before continuing on our way to Sliema, because our car dependance seems to be much higher than that of the rest of the world. And still, the usual commentators grumble because for this one day in a year, they suffered a delay in their Sunday morning drive.

This attitude is probably a symptom of two deeper problems. First of all, a society unable to appreciate such a big human feat of endurance as the marathon, is a society unable to appreciate the simple beauty of life and the potential of human nature. Caught up in our hurried race against time, we can't afford to stop for a few minutes to appreciate something so grand, let alone daily to appreciate the much simpler things of life. The second is that we seem to have become so intrinsically State-dependant that we no longer appreciate the fruit of hard work, sweat and sacrifice, which the free individual can achieve.

Marathon Day can be the ideal platform to reverse this growing lethargy and lack of community spirit. It could be coincided with a car-free morning, allowing the organizers to vary and stretch the route around other areas of the island, also offering the hundreds of foreigners who visit specifially for the event a more varied scenery. It should also encourage families to offer their children a spectacle much more interesting than a lazy Sunday drive-around in their car and lunch at McDonald's. Maybe, someday, our new generations will no longer be topping the obesity tables, and maybe, they too can get inspired to strive to build their own achievements through the fruits of their own labour instead of expecting others to do it for them.

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