Thousands of strangers are screaming at me, but I can't find meaning in the noise. They're smiling and cheering as I suffer in the street just inches from their outstretched hands. All facades have been stripped away and my desperation is laid bare for all to see.
I am no longer worried about how I look, how I sound, or what anyone else might think. All I care about is moving forward a few more feet. I know that if I do this, I will eventually make it to Central Park, where my family waits for me.
A person might wonder why marathoners choose to spend their time in such misery. It's not the misery that we seek, but the glorious feeling of self-admiration that follows. The marathon reveals your strengths, your faults, and your valor.
The euphoric feeling of finishing a race is powerful but short-lived. For me, it's more about self-discovery and egoism. Finding out that you really like who you are is an addictive feeling.
I'm in Central Park now. I see photographers kneeling and pointing their cameras at me. This isn't going to be a good picture, but f--k it. It is what it is, at this point. I'd planned to smile and raise my arms in triumph when I saw the photographers, but now I just want to escape the scrutiny of the camera lens.
We have very few chances to test ourselves in today's world. Consumerism and greed have created a culture that values excess and abhors physical exertion. It's no wonder that individual endurance events like marathons and Ironman triathlons have increased in popularity at the same time our world becomes increasingly automated and our lifestyle more sedentary.
Humans are survivors. Our evolutionary passage has left us with the ability to walk and run extraordinary distances. We were meant to move. Too many of us are trapped in cubicles, sitting around conference tables, and stuck in traffic jams.
There are 800 meters left to go. I am taking very small steps now as I climb the hill towards the finish line. Salty perspiration stings my eyes and my shirt is sticky from spilled Gatorade. To my right, a runner collapses in the street. He is quickly lifted by two other runners and carried towards the finish line. All three of them are heroes.
I cross the finish line and allow myself to stop running for the first time in over three hours. My body is exhausted and my mind is weary as I hobble down the finish chute sipping from a bottle of water. A finisher's medal is placed over my head, and I feel a deep satisfaction settle over me.
Follow Jason Saltmarsh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SaltyRuns