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Today I stepped out my front door and walked down the block to watch the first runners come through my neighborhood in the annual KC Marathon. At this point, they’ve already been running for about twenty miles. About a half-mile farther along, the course begins a mostly downhill path to the finish, after 26.2 miles of endurance.

I love them. I cheer for them. Hundreds of regular people with genuine pluck. (Webster’s: spirit, courage, resolution, fortitude.)

Here’s my moment of braggadocio: in 1979, I ran the first Kansas City Marathon (all 26.2 miles of it) in a time of four hours and seventeen minutes. I trained hard. For most of a year, I got up in the morning, in the frigid dark of winter and the sticky heat of summer, to put in my training miles before heading off to work. I followed a training plan from a popular running book so as to avoid injury and get the most out of my training. When I crossed the finish line, I felt totally triumphant over my own body, which was not exactly equipped by Mother Nature for distance running.

With the perspective of time, I realize that there were other things going on with me that year. Difficulties at work. Yearning for new goals. Battling with aging (at 33?) and weight gain. Picking a BIG (and unlikely) achievement provided exactly the space I needed in my head and in my life to work through it all. And, by the way, I also got bragging rights forever. You only have to finish ONE marathon to claim it.

I’m pretty sure that picking a goal and aiming high are built into my personality. However, I don’t believe that competing with others or “winning” is a necessary component of that. Looking ahead to some desired end brings hope, yes, but only if it also brings joy along the way.

Here’s a poem from those training days, never published.

This hour
the eye of the city shuts
over houses ten thousand dreams
deep. I’m drawn
down the center of things,
under the horns of the moon,
ears canny to windhush,
featherhover, leafsift,
oh, and the story in stars
where the sword of Orion
points me, points me