Why we run marathons
graphic October 31, 2001: 12:48 p.m. ET

Sunday's 26.2 mile race is a test of will that can be agony - but we love it.
By Martine Costello
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  • A survivor's marathon dream
  • Special report: New York City Marathon
    NEW YORK (CNNmoney) - The last few miles of a marathon could be some of the worst pain you'll ever feel.

    Your aching, sweating, weather-beaten body is depleted of glycogen and screaming at you to stop moving immediately.

    You're running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You're delirious. But you keep running because there's no way out of this hell you're in, because there's no way you're not crossing the finish line.

    It's a misery that non-runners don't understand. They don't understand why we get up at 5 a.m. to run under the moon and the stars, or why we spend thousands of dollars a year on running shoes, race watches, microfiber shorts and jog bras.

    They don't understand why we run ourselves into the ground with hamstring injuries and tendonitis, spend months getting healthy and then get hurt all over again. They don't understand why we don't mind keeping the physical therapy industry in business.

    Marathoning has become so huge that it's a billion-dollar industry. The New York City Marathon turns down half the people who try to get in through its lottery.

    We're baby boomers on a mission, tri-athletes, weekend warriors, breast cancer survivors, reformed drinkers, health fanatics, people having a midlife crisis, people getting divorces, people who have found God. Sometimes we're "beer drinkers with a running problem," and sometimes we really are people running away from problems, as critics say.

    Sometimes, though not in my case, we're hotshots fast enough to qualify for the Holy Grail of running, the Boston Marathon.

    We bore our families and our friends with our running stories to the point that they're afraid to bring up the subject. We're not even into mile 16 of our war stories and they're looking at their watches, their eyes glazing over, pushing the peas back and forth on the plate.

    Sometimes we run for charity, and sometimes we run to meet goals we set for ourselves. Joe, my running club president who at 68 has run 54 marathons, wants to run enough marathons in the next few years so he'll have 70 medals at age 70. My friend Don plans to do a 50-mile trail run on a Saturday and the Philadelphia Marathon the following day.

    It's addictive, that unbelievable pain you feel that ends so sweetly with crowds cheering for you and a medal around your neck.

    My inspiration to run marathons started in 1998, when I watched my husband run the New York Marathon. When I didn't get in through the lottery in the next two years, I did the Dublin City Marathon in 2000 and the Vermont City Marathon this spring.

    But now it's my turn to wait at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, with its panoramic view of Manhattan minus the World Trade Center towers, to head over the Verrazano Bridge.

    A lot of people ask me why I run. Once, at a 20-kilometer road race in Connecticut, an annoying man eating granola out of Tupperware even asked me why I bother since I can't run fast. My doctor told me I shouldn't run marathons because I don't have a runner's body. Well, Dr. Einstein, maybe that's why I run.

    The New York City Marathon has special significance this year, for runners and the city. It is the biggest event in New York since the Sept. 11 attacks, and it will pump an estimated $118 million into the battered economy.

    Police and marathon organizers expect a crowd of more than 2 million spectators. About two-thirds of the 30,000 runners come from outside the tri-state area and from other countries, many bringing friends and family.

    We'll run to show our support for New York, to show our patriotism, to show Osama bin Laden that we're not afraid of a terrorist who hides in a cave. We'll run for the U.S. troops and the mistreated women of the Taliban.

    We'll run for the lost souls of Sept. 11, the firefighters, the police, our friends and family who witnessed the tragedy. The runners who sat at their desks at the Trade Center, rubbing sore muscles and dreaming about this marathon, like I sometimes have done.

    Because this year is special, some of us will also run with injuries when we know we probably shouldn't, like my husband, who has been limping around since we left Boston this spring.

    And, less nobly, we'll run so we can drink beer and eat a fat steak afterwards.

    It's a challenge that we take on, with just our hearts and the body God gave us.

    We run because if we can make it through 26.2 miles, everything else will seem easy. A moment in time when an average person can feel like Michael Jordan and do something extraordinary. graphic

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    A survivor's marathon dream

    Special report: New York City Marathon

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