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Farmer: Here’s to the idiots (Nov. 7)

Douglas Farmer | Sunday, November 6, 2011

They are all idiots.

Pheidippides was an idiot, though noble his cause.

My brothers are idiots. Granted, I’ve known that for two decades, but the three of them have proven it a total of four times: My oldest brother always needs to make a mistake twice in order to learn his lesson.

Some of my friends are idiots. I once tasked Matt with designing a risk-free nuclear power plant to prevent the Chinese from taking over the world in pursuit of oil, but now I know him to be an idiot. There are many others, some more idiotic than others.

My Army Ranger veteran of a high school cross-country coach is the biggest idiot I know, and his wrecked knees prove it.

These people who have shaped my life all share one characteristic with Pheidippides: They are marathoners.

They have set themselves to a 26.2-mile run, and have succeeded. Pheidippides raced that distance to tell those at Athens the Greeks had won the Battle of Marathon. He uttered, “Nenikékamen,” or “We have won,” collapsed and died.

Yet my brothers, Matt, my coach and so many others still thought, think and likely will think it smart to memorialize the Greek soldier. One of my better friends sacrificed many of the hijinx of the first third of her senior year so she could spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets to New York City, subsequently bicker with Continental Airlines about those tickets and then run 26.2 miles in just under four hours yesterday. Her logic evades me.

And that is the beauty of it. That is the beauty of a New York City Marathon record 47,106 runners joining her.

It is said, “If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” Those of us who enjoy their Sundays on the couch watching the Green Bay Packers roll to yet another victory tend to disagree with that sentiment. But it could not be more accurate.

To bring another quote into the mix, T.S. Eliot wrote, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Thus is the purpose of a marathon: to find out how far one can go.

Pheidippides quite literally discovered his limit. He reached his ultimate breaking point, and pushed past it, therefore breaking.

Deep down inside, every marathoner envies Pheidippides. It is not that they want to die at the finish line. They simply know the wonders of modern medicine would likely prevent that. Thanks to IVs and whatnot, exhaustion is not the death sentence it was 2,500 years ago. Instead, collapsing at the line shows you rationed your existence perfectly.

For, as John L. Parker writes in his cult-classic, “Once A Runner,” “A runner is a miser, spending the pennies of his energy with great stinginess … He wants to be broke at precisely the moment he no longer needs his coin.”

Runners want to find their breaking point. They know only one way to find it — by breaking.

Thus, they are all idiots. From Matt to my coach to America’s-finest marathoner, Ryan Hall, they are all idiots. They are idiots because they want to ruin themselves. In a marathon, they learn what they are incapable of as much as they learn what they are capable of. Yesterday, 47,107 runners gained a bit more self-awareness in the five boroughs of New York City. Today, though they cringe at the sight of stairs and whimper every time they stand up from the couch, they are smarter than they were yesterday.

Yes, by being idiots, they are now smarter.

So, here’s to the idiots.