Why would anyone run 26.2 miles? Why would anyone voluntarily pay money to labor through a three- to six-hour endeavor that induces varying degrees of agony and confers no reward other than a medal dangling from a ribbon?
The question was posed at the finish line of Sunday’s 11th annual ING Miami Marathon, which runners crossed with euphoric grimaces on twisted, sweat-soaked faces.
Waiting for them as they checked their times: bottles of water. And a fleet of wheelchairs.
“Marathoning is an insane way to keep your sanity,” said Maritza Baez of Shorecrest. At Mile 23, the toes of her right foot curled into a claw. The cramp migrated to her thigh, then her left hip. She kept going with a limping gait.
Some staggered like drunks. Some made the sign of the cross, bent over, sank to the curb. There were hugs, tears, primal screams. The unlucky or unprepared ones were consoled by medical personnel and whisked to the big white tent full of gurneys and IVs.
“It’s addictive,” Darryl Gilbert said. “It’s like fishing. You throw the bait in and hope your next catch will be a big one. You try to beat yourself.”
Gilbert, who works in law enforcement, completed an Ironman triathlon in Cozumel despite ripping up his foot on coral during the swim and sheering off leg skin in a bike crash.
“There was no question that I would finish,” he said, applying ice to an abused knee. “You say, ‘I can survive this.’ The pain part helps you learn about your inner self.”
Wouldn’t meditation be just as enlightening but a lot less bloody?
“You run through the discomfort — that’s the point,” said Diane Discher, 33, a show horse rider and trainer from Joplin, Mo. She fell hard at Mile 2 and scraped knees, hands, elbows. After four hours, a thick red line had coagulated along her shin. This mishap occurred a month after she was bit in the back of the knee by a dog during a run and had the gash sewn up in the emergency room. Nevertheless, she finished her fifth marathon.
“It gives me a chance to let my mind go blank and my subconscious work out problems,” she said. “It helps me be more empathetic to the aches and pains of my horses.”
But meeting a challenge doesn’t have to cause blisters, does it? One could read the complete works of Shakespeare, or Einstein. Make a million dollars.
Prefer an athletic challenge? How about golf?
“We do as many marathons as we can until we drop dead,” explained Mike Nusblat, a 60-year-old from Stony Point, New York, who finished his 61st marathon of 26.2 miles or more on Sunday wearing a leopard-print jersey. He’s a member of an international club called Marathon Maniacs.
Maniac Steve Zaharoff, an engineer from Vienna, Va., has run 43 marathons and aims to hit 50 this year. The toughest race he’s completed is the Hat Run 50K in Pennsylvania.
“It’s got 10,000 feet of elevation change on single track with hairpin turns, rocks, tree roots, and I did it last year in the pouring rain,” Zaharoff said with the kind of glee normal people would use to describe a five-star meal.
One marathon is rarely enough. Endurance athletes keep pushing the envelope. Danielle Furey used the Miami race to prepare for a 156-mile ultra race across the Sahara Desert in April. Furey, a 43-year-old attorney and mother of four from Weston, has done a dozen half or full Ironmans.
“Type A personality, always have a goal in the hopper or an addition to the bucket list,” said Furey, who ran with husband Richard.
She has another goal since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year ago.
“If I don’t stop moving, I’ll never stop moving,” said Furey, who created a website: www.outrunningms.com.
Maria “Lulu” Gill of Paraguay finished her first marathon Sunday two months after her plans to run New York were wrecked by Super Storm Sandy.
“There must be a reason I trained for this,” she mused. “It’s like having a baby. You forget how much it hurt or you wouldn’t go through it again.”
Five minutes after finishing in 3:54, Gill had already forgotten. She’s returning to New York in November.
British explorer Ranulph Fiennes, who ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days in 2003, will soon attempt a historic winter crossing of Antarctica. If something goes wrong during the journey through the dark, at temperatures as low as minus 120 degrees, no rescue is possible. Why is he doing it? Well, it’s never been done before.
Pedro Belchior’s name won’t be written in any record book.
For him, marathoning is a personal journey. A pilot for Portugal’s TAP airline, Belchior spent his one-day layover in Miami finishing his 24th marathon, adding to ones he and his crew logged in South Africa, Brazil, Berlin, Boston, Budapest. He’s an explorer, too.
“I enjoyed it to 25K, then it was just suffering,” he said while lying on his back with feet propped up on a fence. On Monday, he flies back to Lisbon.
Why has Alberto Perusset run 71 marathons, including his 32nd in bare feet on Sunday? Because he’s a masochist?
“Because it’s fun,” said Perusset, organizer of the Malibu Marathon. “It’s the natural way to run and the endorphins released give you a natural high.”
Why in the world did Carlos and Debbie Condador run 26.2 miles in wedding costumes — he in tuxedo and black tie, she in ankle-length white gown? In 70-degree weather?
They did it to celebrate their 25th anniversary and inspire other couples. Carlos, a nurse anesthetist from Monument, Colo., and Debbie, mother of three, could have spent a relaxing weekend in Miami, but that would have been too easy.
“Our message is that marriage is like a marathon,” Debbie said. “You hit the wall, but you stay committed.”