On April 18th, a herd of 30,000 sweaty, panting, cramping, closeted masochists ran 26.2 miles through the streets of Boston. Among them was President of the College Adam Falk. Falk completed his third-ever marathon in three hours and 58 minutes, a pace of about nine minutes per mile – an impressive feat.
Falk’s previous marathon experiences took place in Albany, N.Y. and Montreal, respectively, but he speaks of his experience in Boston with particular giddiness. In terms of marathons, “Boston is the most special,” Falk said. Among running communities, the Boston Marathon is regarded as the sort of quintessential event for the sport, similar to the Rose Bowl Game for college football or the Daytona 500 for NASCAR racing. The Boston Marathon distinguishes itself from other marathons in that there is a qualifying time to run the race; one must run another marathon in a certain time in order to participate. Qualifying times generally fall in the sub-four hour range, meaning that qualifying for the race known for its punishing inclines is a challenge in itself. Besides the challenge the marathon presented, Falk was captivated by the event because, as he put it, “You’re running with 30,000 other people, and there [are] a million people lining the course. It was just a thrill.”
Running isn’t a lifelong passion for Falk. In fact, it has only been a hobby of his for less than a decade. “I hadn’t been a runner until about four years ago, until I got to Williamstown,” he said. The bountiful wilderness of the Purple Valley made the idea of running compelling to him. “Running is a great way to be outside in such a beautiful place,” he said. Falk described working running into his life as an arduous step-by-step process. He used to hardly be able to go a mile before capitulating to lactic acid burns and gasps for breath. Within two years, however, he showed remarkable improvement, as running became a regular part of his daily life.
Falk then started participating in half marathons because the 13-mile excursion was a challenging yet approachable race. “If you asked me two years ago, I would have said no way,” Falk said about transitioning to marathons. However, after running a couple of half-marathons, a friend of his, a fellow runner, told him that if he could run a half-marathon, he was capable of running a marathon in the space of a few months. For many people, the fact that completing a marathon might be physically possible for them would not be a compelling reason to actually do it. But Falk got sucked in. “My thought was that I would run one – it’s a long way to go,” he said. But one became two and last week, two became three.
Falk runs alone. He said he uses the time to internalize his thoughts and do a bit of meditation. “It’s a solo thing for me. I have a pretty busy day, so a long run is a chance to just think,” he said. However, Falk appreciates the communal aspects of running, too. “Having been a runner for a few years, one of the things I love about it is that there are so many people who do it so much better than you, but you get to do the same thing as them,” he said. There is, as Falk put it, “no pressure or hope to be the best.” If there’s a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon time, there’s no qualifying time to be a runner – everyone can run at his or her own pace. It’s about challenging yourself. In fact, this was one of the things Falk liked most about marathons. “It’s exciting to be with 30,000 people who are all trying to challenge themselves,” Falk said. During the races, everyone is running alone, but also, in a way together – along the same course, in the same way, a community of many moving parts.
Here’s a simple analogy to Falk’s experience: a student studying at an elite college, where all around there are individuals far superior academically, athletically, artistically, musically, etc., and yet, on graduation day, it doesn’t matter. At Williams, as in marathons, at the finish line, it really is not about who comes in first. What is so exciting, and what keeps the whole thing from becoming harrowingly intimidating, is the understanding that everyone is struggling, everyone is moving along the same sidewalks, the same hallways, and one person’s success does not limit yours. College, like a marathon, is an individualized struggle celebrated collectively.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that this may have been Falk’s last 26-mile haul. “For the last six miles and for the last 20 minutes, all I could think was that I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever do this again,” Falk said. He conceded, however, that after he’d finished, the idea of another marathon did not seem too crazy.
There’s something quite compelling, even addicting, after all, about the furious, laborious effort, about the breathless moment when you are all in, when you hold nothing back.