Last Sunday I have become an adult. No, I have not turned a certain age or taken out a mortgage or fathered a child.
I ran the Berlin Marathon.
How many times have I heard the phrase (from myself included): “I completely sucked at PT classes at school, but look at me now, I am running a marathon and my classmates are all enjoying beer bellies.” Almost every office-dweller in London wants to run a marathon at some point of their lives – and there is a reason. I am quite convinced that running a marathon is THE quintessential middle-class thing you can ever do.
I have to admit finishing provided me with a lot of positive emotional discharge, I could not help but wondering – why did I do this? I dislike sports anyway. And why do people run marathons after all? Why does this represent such an achievement, a “lifetime” event? 42 kilometres is not by any measure an insane distance. After all, millions of people on the Earth can run a marathon in under a cut-off time of 6 hours or so. Biggest marathons count around 50,000 participants.
And here is what I have made of it.
When we grow up there is always something to look forward to, a “next stage”, if you will. You are looking forward to your high school, to your university, to your career. Those are really big stages in one’s life. At the same time, from books and movies and tales by your family you get to know various existing lives and experiences lived through by other people.
Of course your life does not seem to come close to those stories. And this is normal – after all, books and movies are CONDENSED life experiences, not a complete rendition of every mundane subject that a person have ever said or done. This is why, to me, high life expectations are inevitable to our Eurocentric civilization. But you do not fret: “hey, this is not a real life now, it’s a mere preparatory stage. The real life will start in the high school, in the university, when you are a young adult”.
But it doesn’t, of course. When you reach the career stage of your life, all of a sudden you look around your repetitive, routine-driven days and are astonished: “Is THAT it? This wonderful, beautiful life full of adventure that I was promised is this – THIS?” This shock is exacerbated because you realise two merciless truths you had no idea about:
Nobody knows what they are doing or what is “the right way”.
You don’t really know much about anything.
This all further is perpetuated by your middle-class background. It certainly doesn’t help having an office job or those middle-class expectations that you – or others – have assumed for yourself.
So you start to cope and try to make sense of this reality you live in. You are desperately looking for those emotions you were told about and that you don’t feel a hint.
You try to turn your life around, maybe get some kids, start to go in for sports, do some annoying charity plea on your Facebook, you start to travel much more than you are comfortable with. And you run a marathon.
You subscribe a ballot, you annoy your Facebook friends with collecting money for charity, you train and prepare, buy tickets, post selfies and maps tracking your running routines and finally announce the final result. You tell all of your friends you are doing this thing and get exactly what you were looking for: recognition, belonging, even admiration, making a one-man theatre of the idea of “living life to the fullest”. Because in fact, in your middle-class milieu this IS “living life to the fullest”, it makes sense to them as it makes sense to you. But take a step back – and it is gone. You are not accomplishing anything. You are not fighting for anything.
As I was standing there, preparing for a race, hearkening to the “Chariots of Fire” I saw thousands and thousands of middle class thirtysomethings. And by the overall mood of excitement and anticipation I got that for many it was in fact a moment of a lifetime. While my result of 4:18 is more than modest, I still came better than 2/3 of participants, which means they are even more amateurish than I am.
We all of course had a reason to run. None of us said “I want to feel important” or “I do it because direct action is good to keep you happy in life”. We all had other pretexts. Some people run for charity, one particular greyish fifty-something chap I remember had a heartfelt message on his shirt: “23 miles for 23 years of your life” followed by two dates. Indeed such are touching. In my own little contrived world I say that it helps me to structure my training as I hate sports and would have dropped out months ago if there was nothing to train for on the horizon. I also say it helps me to overcome depression I am feeling since my girlfriend left me a year ago.
While you can certainly verbalise totally alien reasons to those I do for all these things, I think if you go down inside deep enough you will admit, this is purely to tingle those false senses of belonging, an idea that your life means something outside your little world.
Of course, self-awareness is not an autopilot for WIN. Simply acknowledging the fact of your existential shock of the real world is not going to heal you. But it’s a good start. Admit, you are just scared looking how fast time passes and your dreams get shattered. You are scared how things that were once so clear and obvious are not like that anymore, how ageing means you lose grip on your mental and physical health. You are middle class, that’s why you run a marathon.
It will not help, but it’s ok. Carry on running.