I want to get in shape; I’m going to run a marathon.
I just graduated/got divorced/turned 30, 40, 50/ate a really good sandwich … I’m going to run a marathon.
Everyone and their dog, and P. Diddy, are signing up for half and FULL marathons lately.
According to TIME magazine, in the 1970s about 25,000 people in the U.S. ran marathons a year. Now that number is about 425,000. 17 times as many.
Their popularity isn’t a mystery. Every major city hosts one. Every disease has a corresponding run. Then, you often see it assigned to those looking to get fit on television shows like The Biggest Loser and The Last Ten Pounds like math homework.
You want to fit into that dress? Run a marathon.
But what I find to be garbage is that through the popularization of this 26-mile (42.195 km) race, people have started to perceive it as the base level of fitness. Like you’re not really in shape unless you can run for three straight hours.
What these pavement-pounders have forgotten is that the marathon is the paramount, one of the furthest extremes of human ability and isn’t meant for every Tom, Dick, Harry, Joe Six-Pack, or Sally Housewife.
The first runner of the “Marathon” was a Greek soldier named Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon, Greece to Athens (about 26 miles) to announce victory over the Persians.
He then promptly fell down DEAD from exhaustion.
And this guy was in the army, so he was pretty fit.
Two thousand years later, organizers of the modern Olympics figured this was the perfect distance to judge who was the best runner ON PLANET EARTH, testing the very limits of human endurance.
And yet according to your brother-in-law, this can be accomplished with three weeks of training and some pump-up jams on an iPod.
Interestingly, we don’t take our kid’s training wheels off and immediately sign her up for the Tour de France. We don’t buy a harness and rope and immediately start climbing Everest.
Why do we think we can climb the Everest of running no problem?
Well there are problems. Lots of them.
Severe blisters, dehydration, and runner’s diarrhea (hope you like ditches!).
Then there’s “blood under the nail,” severe chafing (I think we can all agree that the worst thing in the world after genocide is BLEEDING NIPPLES), and along with sprains, strains and ligament injuries, you have stress fractures. That’s right, you can hit the ground with your feet so many times it CRACKS YOUR BONES.
Of course I’m aware that such warnings are useless if you’re one of those people who gets turned on by a challenge, and laughs in the face of limitations.
I won’t stop you from running.
But I will make this plea to bring back the reverence for the marathon.
Treat this race with respect, lest the running bug bite you back.
At the end of the race, it is not a right of passage, it is a feat of strength.
Jane is a writer and performer with the Winnipeg sketch comedy troupe, Hot Thespian Action, an improviser with local improv troupe, Outside Joke, and the host of the CBC Comedy Factory Podcast.
Published in Volume 69, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 10, 2014)