This was inspired by the Boston Marathon, which was run today. Big races always get me thinking like this.

You’d think it’d be boring. People moving, running, on the road. Over hills, under bridges, through crowds. They are going fast, but you can hardly tell — not if you are standing on the street cheering them on as they pass by, not if you are watching on tv while camera crews flank them from all sides. It’s the same thing over and over: one leg then the other, their arms swing, they take a swig of water drop the bottle on the ground, they glance glance at their watches. Sometimes they are wearing sunglasses and you can’t even see their eyes, you can’t even see how focused they are on the task at hand.

But somehow, it isn’t boring. There’s drama in each step. Will someone fall? Take someone down with them? Are they intentionally giving the guy in the lead a little distance? Hoping he’ll wear himself out and they’ll catch him later? Is that surge sustainable? Will they break a record? Or, on this unseasonably hot day, will someone overheat and drop out? You grow attached to them over the miles, even if you knew nothing about them before the gun went off. You learn. Someone has been working for a decade to have this chance. Someone else is a surprise contender who seems to have fallen in by accident. They depend on each other, draft off each other, encourage each other and then — sometimes with the finish in sight — they burn each other. And while you don’t care who wins or who comes in second, and you know someone has to cross the line first, you hope that second place person can hold on just a little bit longer, surge a little bit more, make it really close, only lose by a second or two.

And that is just the racing: the training, the strategy, the coaching, the talent. There are also the personal stories: She just had a baby earlier this year. His brother died of a black mamba bite and he’s working to earn money for better medical care in his city. She’s a virtual unknown with a surprising shot at winning. He’s never competed at this level before. And you want to see them all do well, to break their personal record even if they don’t win.

After the elites have gone by and finished their race and are talking to the media, there are the amateurs. There’s Team Hoyt, Dick and Rick — the father and son that have been running endurance races for decades. Rick is 50 now, Dick is 72. They’ve run in over a thousand races, Dick always pushing his son in the wheelchair. They are, perhaps, the most prominent testimony to endurance, devotion, and sacrifice that are on any course they grace. But there are many others who have worked and sacrificed and you may never know it, though you may see it in their eyes as they near the finish line where the crowds are the thickest, the pain is the most intense, and the emotions so raw that people cry as they make those final steps, they collapse onto the pavement, they exult in the victory of having simply made it to the finish line.

And it’s weird how you can get sucked in to the drama of the race, even though when it comes down to it, all it is is one foot in front of the other.

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