42 thousand blowsJune 30, 2023
The human body is made up of 206 bones with 230 joints, around 639 muscles, and 21 different organs.
The human mind –even after thousands of years of effort by scientists, philosophers, poets, mystics and shamans– being a totally subjective and personal phenomenon, is much less clear in its definition and more difficult to explain.
Despite these differences, both share the same paradoxical characteristic. They are both more fragile than they appear and much stronger than we think.
While the exact numbers depend on a variety of factors – such as body weight, terrain, footwear, or running technique – according to the most widely used formulas, someone weighing 150 pounds running at race pace is impacted by around of 265 pounds of force in each step.
The average stride of a runner is approximately one meter, which means that he has to take around a thousand steps to cover one kilometer.
No one knows for sure the exact distance that Pheidippides covered in the legendary race between the cities of Marathon and Athens, so when Baron Pierre de Coubertin had the idea of reviving the Olympic Games, he took the distance between the two cities as a basis –approximately forty kilometers– to create a race that he called –in honor of the legend– the marathon. This distance continued to change until the London Olympic Games in 1908, when the current 42,195 meters were established as the official distance.
All of these facts, which on their own may seem like little more than a curiosity, take on a special meaning when associated with the experience of running a marathon.
When we put all these elements together, we realize that during this trial, an average human body not only has to resist the effort of maintaining a race pace, but it will also do so while the entire musculo-skeletal system and the different organs it contains receive the impact equivalent to 42 thousand blows from a hammer throughout, depending on your speed, between 3 and 6 hours.
It is an experience during which the mind of each individual can go through the entire spectrum of sensations and emotions – from enthusiasm to despair, from laughter to tears, from pain to euphoria, from anger to ecstasy, from hell to peace. And where the line between moving on or giving up and stopping sometimes becomes so thin as to be virtually non-existent.
Throughout all ages, in all cultures, practices and rituals have emerged based on the same principle, subjecting the body and mind to extreme conditions as a way to achieve a profound physical and mental transformation. Even in our modern world, so far removed from mysticism and spirituality, it is very common to hear many say that someone who has run a marathon can do anything.
This statement, although it has a veneer of truth, is not entirely accurate… or at least not in the easy and direct way as so many motivational posters would like us to believe. Proof of this are the thousands of people for whom, despite all that it implies, running a marathon only brings one more medal to their collection or, worse still, nothing more than a new rung on the ego ladder.
The reality is much less magical but more simple.
When you decide to accept the challenge of committing to respect the discipline necessary to prepare yourself physically and mentally, even knowing the toll that the marathon will demand from your body and mind, you are making a promise to yourself not to give up until you cross the finish line.
Running a marathon with this promise in your mind and heart has a very special effect. Perhaps at the very moment of crossing the finish line, or maybe several days later, when you least expect it, you suddenly realize something as obvious as it is wonderful.
It’s not that running a marathon makes you capable of doing anything you want.
All the marathon does, with each and every one of those 42,000 blows, is show you that you could always have done it…
You just need to be willing to set a goal for yourself, and do what it takes to achieve it.
Even if it means enduring 42 thousand blows.