How do you measure a marathon? Obviously accounting for the actual distance seems like the most linear process. But even then are we talking about miles or metric? The ol’ American 26.2 or the international 42 kilometers? Further, just measuring the distance does not take in consideration that most serious runners measure their marathons based on the finishing time. A recent National Geographic documentary, Sub-2:00 was the ridiculous and brash attempt to run a marathon under two hours. Amazingly they almost got it done and that is just ludicrous. For most of us the final finishing time is not as important as simply slaying the beast. We want to earn the right to put the stupid black and white sticker on the back of our minivans. We want to say we ran a marathon, even if we did walk during mile 22 because no one was watching. For many it is the number of finish lines crossed that reveals the true mettle of the marathoner. Those individuals have very selective memories because apparently they forgot about that pain at mile 22. If we break it down even further into the thought process of a marathon, you would have to start measuring the distance at the spark of an idea. Just to dream and then actually start training is pretty impressive. In the beginning it’s simple, but a daunting task to set a goal, commit to an event and then start putting one foot in front of the other. So we can measure it by distance, time, quantity or even attempts. But this only accounts for the physicality of the event. We have not even considered the amazing money raised for non-profits at the behest of the endurance industry. How can you measure a marathon and not take into account that $500 million is annually fundraised around these events. It’s a little known fact, but this generosity exceeds the money donated to charity by the NBA, MLB or the NFL. So yes there are dozens of ways to measure a marathon. In the end, each of those calculations would fall short to ignore the human spirit behind each event. It’s the human element that creates the moments. It’s the people that produce them, support them and run them that define the marathon.
In general, we marathoners rarely appreciate the work that goes into event production. Creating a course, managing it and making it safe is just the beginning. Beyond the course is the permits to close that course. Beyond the permits is the politicking to acquire those permits. Beyond the politicking is some crazy person or worse a group of crazy people that decide they want to put on a marathon. Then someone has to create a brand and a marketing plan and collect registrations. It’s far from a soft t-shirt and a snazzy medal. Hiring staff and recruiting volunteers is a mountain of work on its own. And those are just the basics; if you want to put on a special event then it requires a deep love for the participant experience. One must think of every detail and potential pitfall. It truly takes a village to produce THAT type of marathon and in some cases it takes an entire island.
So no, you cannot measure a marathon with simply distance or time or facts or numbers of participants. Marathons are dreams, not only dreamed of by the runners, but by the founders as well. If it takes a crazy person to run a marathon, then it takes an insane person to start one. So lets meet those people, those humans behind the spirit of the marathon.
Over the next ten months we’ll be profiling ten influential people in the lead up to the 10th Anniversary of the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon. We’ll talk to the organizers, politicians, past champions, volunteers, and the locals to get their perspective of the experiences. We’ll learn what it takes to prepare and to execute a race plan and a course plan. We’ll hear some war stories from the event office to runner’s struggles on Pu’u road. Money lost and money won. Friends for life and memories for an eternity. Thank you for the suggestions, but we’ll measure our marathon by the people. It is the people that produce it, run it, cheer for it, and bring it all together every Labor Day weekend on the Garden Island.