The Most Beautiful Distance in the World: 0.2 Mile

Jul 20th 2011

It's rare that you'll see an RW Daily post devoted to clarifying a previous RW Daily post, but this is one such instance. So pay attention!

After yesterday's post, , I felt a follow-up was in order. For two reasons:

1. To say just how much I love you guys. Some of your nominations were awesome. (Free pie? Cold beer? FREE BEER? Yes please.) And

2. To expand just a bit on my own "most beautiful two words," which as you'll recall were: Mile 26.

Several commenters argued that finish or finish line were, logically, more beautiful. After all, noted one reader,  finish "applies to all races including the marathon and it's when a good amount of the pain stops."

Fair point. And in fact I almost chose finish as the most beautiful word in the English language. But I didn't. It just seemed too predictable, too easy.

The more I thought about it, though, I realized that there's more to it than that. I really do believe that seeing the Mile 26 sign in a marathon is better than actually finishing.

The finish line is the goal, of course. It's what you've been working toward for months. It's also, as that reader noted, where much of the pain stops. But it represents an ending — a finality that can seem bittersweet, that can almost leave us feeling a little sad.

The Mile 26 sign, on the other hand, says, "Congrats! You've made it… practically." With very few, very rare exceptions, if the Mile 26 sign is in sight, you're golden and you know it. And you've got 2/10 of a mile to bask in that knowledge while you're still running.

It's 0.2 mile of pain and bliss.

For a short while, emotionally, you've got a foot in two incredible and very different worlds: You're still racing, and suffering. But at the same time, you're feeling those first waves of euphoria wash over you — the euphoria of knowing that you did it, and that relief is imminent.

It's this contrast — the pain and bliss — that imbues Mile 26 with its beauty. It's uniquely powerful. And impossible to convey, fully, to anyone who hasn't experienced it.

That's why, for me, Mile 26 are the two most beautiful words in the English language.

Especially when there's free beer at the end.