Twice during the past week I have had tears in my eyes as I watched a runner cross the finish line of a marathon. Monday I watched Meb Keflezighi win the Boston Marathon, the first American male to do so since 1983 and at 39, the oldest runner to do so since 1931. The odds of him winning Boston were clearly against him, and yet he found a way to pull away from the other favorites to win the race. Here is what was posted on his Facebook page the day after the race, the same day he received a congratulatory phone call from President Obama: Keflezighi's win was entirely unexpected. Turning 39 next month, his best days seemed to be in his past, especially given the Kenyan stronghold on the race. Since 1991, a runner from Kenya has won the men's race 19 times. Throughout the race he kept thinking, "Boston Strong, Boston Strong, Meb Strong, Meb Strong." The strains of Aerosmith's Dream On, the tribute version, also ran through his head. As the frontrunner throughout the race, Keflezighi was cheered by massive crowds from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. "You got this, Meb," they shouted. "U-S-A," they chanted. Keflezighi, wearing a red and white top and blue shorts, gave them a thumbs up or a fist pump in return. "I just used their energy," he said. "I take so much pride in being an American."
In several post-race interviews I heard Keflezighi talk about how much the fan support meant to him as he was straining to hold off his challengers in the final miles of the race. The cheering fans carried him along as he continued to run sub-five minute miles right until the very end.
My other experience of tearing up as I watched a marathoner cross the finish line happened two days prior to the Boston Marathon, when I had the delight of watching my wife, Holly, complete her first marathon in Salt Lake City. Four months earlier her longest run had been 13.1 miles and now here she was approaching her 60th birthday, and completing the 26.2 miles of a marathon. Our family was together for this exciting event, all cheering Holly on to her great accomplishment. While there was no call from President Obama the next day, her accomplishment was just as inspiring to all of us as if she had won the Boston Marathon.
A marathon is not just a running race. A marathon is ultimately all about the human race, about the indomitable power and perseverance of the human spirit. Each of us, in our own way, is most likely running some kind of marathon in our own lives--perhaps even several marathons. It might be a marathon of hard work, parenting, caring for a loved one, working for peace and justice, recovering from an addiction, or some kind of loss or setback. Life itself is its own kind of marathon. In all of these non-running marathons, there are not beginners and experts, there are simply souls who inspire to do the best they can, to give it all they have, and to keep moving forward by putting one foot in front of the other.
Both Keflezighi and my wife, Holly, both repeatedly have talked of how important it was to have people cheering them on. The energy and support of others truly pulled them across the finish line. Do you know someone who is running some kind of a marathon right now, someone who could use some fan support? Go ahead and make some noise for them. Make a sign that proclaims your support. Ring a cow bell when they are near or find some other way to express your encouragement. Thank them for inspiring your spirit to keep running the most important and inspiring race of all, the human race.