There are two kinds of marathons.
There is the one you sign up for — the one that has competitive qualifications, the one that other people watch, the one with a prescribed path, the one with t-shirts and electrolyte-infused hydration every mile, the one you run with and against other people.
There is another kind of marathon.
One that you run by yourself, one where you chart your own path, one where no one else is watching, one you can start at anytime, anywhere.
I've come to value the latter kind of marathon. When you strip the societal competition, pressure, and noise, and choose to run 26.3 miles by yourself on a random weekend, it really forces the question, why are you running in the first place?
At first, I ran to see if I could. Now, I just run to run. I never have run to compete or to win. I've learned to enjoy the process of running more than the social competition of it. Comparing yourself to others comes at your own expense. I choose instead to compete against myself. When you compete against yourself, you can play the long game against your own unrealized potential. When you compete against yourself, there is no incentive to cheat or to cut corners - the only person who can lose or win is yourself. You become your own best competition and catalyst for growth. You can test your physical and mental limitations and notice how surprisingly resilient and adaptable your body can be. You can always push yourself a little bit further. Winning is surpassing your former self, but there is no final destination - it becomes a process. Run to clear your mind, to reflect, to be healthy, for fun, for those who can't; run to run.