Not so long ago I wrote about Tony Judt (1948-2010) who coined the phrase the crappy generation, whose members “grew up in the 1960s in Western Europe or in America, in a world of no hard choices, either economic nor political.”
I had Judt in mind when I was talking to my friend J last month over cocktails. When J and I get together for Hendricks martinis and dinner on the side, we often talk about running.
One thought I had during out last session was that as a member of the crappy generation I had no mass, or national, war to occupy my body and mind. So, as a way to compensate for this deficiency (after all, we are talking “crappy” here), I run marathons.
How are marathons like wars? As a group, we marathoners struggle and suffer through months of basic training to bring ourselves up to the standards of road “combat,” which is running continually for 26.2 miles. Out there on the course, we urge each other forward, like mates in the trenches. We understand, as best we can, the common enemy (especially at mile sixteen or mile twenty when we are convinced that we have nothing left.) Along the course, the civilians cheer as if to the soldiers on march to harbor and their troop ships, saying reassuring war-years-like things: “Looking great!” “We’re proud of you!” “You’re all so amazing!”
At the end of race, we have a memory and a medal to show to those at home. And, after our marathoning days are over, we put the medal in a drawer for safekeeping. When we take it out we will handle it carefully and memories of our own sacrifice and those who shared it will come flooding back.
There will be no marathon cenotaphs, no memorials built for the nameless marathoner. It is, I’m sure you agree, better that way.
Next: Running for Your Life: Baseball, Hockey and a Birthday!