One thought ahead. Three sentences behind.

Marathon and Beyond

Why do people run marathons?  Does anybody realize the original one was job related and involved a person dying?  That’s how it started.  A Greek soldier by the name of Pheidippides was given the assignment of traveling from the town of Marathon to Athens to spread the news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians.

Since he didn’t have a valid Eurail Pass, Pheidippides ran the whole way, only stopping to drink from nearby wells and to let a trainer work on a troubling charley horse.  He ran for so long he started to drop a couple of P’s and a few I’s from his name.  And when he finally reached Athens and delivered the news, it is legend he immediately dropped dead.

Knowing the above story, I’m glad I’ve never ran a marathon.  The only way I can see participating in one is if the course ran along a major bus route.  I once met a woman at a cocktail party who told me her greatest accomplishment reaching 30 was running a marathon in Hawaii.  I told her my greatest accomplishment reaching 30 was reaching 30.

Life is rough and marathons only provide compound fractures.  Still, I understand the lure.  From an exercise point of view it’s the perfect cardio workout.  A steady run can elevate the heart rate and quickly burn calories.  When I went for a run, I loved how it calmed and cleared my mind.  At the end I felt a mixed sensation of being relaxed and energized.  However, I didn’t like how I couldn’t get out of bed the next day.  This may have been due to poor genetics and a lustful need for contact sports.  Still, running did not help.

Now that I walk I am surprised how much I now see, like falling of leaves from a tree, the stillness of a quiet lake, the playful nature of a neighborhood squirrel, the cranky attitude of passing wood duck.  Then there is the steady stream of joggers passing me on the left and right, getting in their training miles for the next marathon

Running I understand.  Marathons I do not.  The reason?  There are three:

  1. Time.  I don’t subscribe to any activity that takes four hours to complete.  This is why I never bake bread or golf more than nine holes.  The average male runner takes four and a half hours to complete a marathon provided his wife lets him.  That’s a full workday of running if he has to run back to his car after the race.
  2. Mechanics.  I hate to tell you runners but humans are not designed to run long distances.  Unless you are part gazelle or Kenyan, you are not going to look graceful.  For most, running a marathon is a deteriorating slog.  It’s a proven fact that the human body can only store enough burnable carbohydrates for 18 to 20 miles.  After that the body must tap stored fat.  And the last thing the body wants to do during this process is run another six to eight miles.  In running terms this transition is called “hitting the wall.” What your body is saying, “That was fun.  How about we go out for pizza?”
  3. Boring.  Let’s face it.  There is no part of a marathon that is interesting.  All people do in marathons is run.  That’s it.  There is no jumping unless it’s over a pothole or a fallen runner.  There is no tackling unless a crazy fan jumps out of the stands to hug the leader.   And there is no scoring like football or night clubbing.  There is only running and trying to lower your time.  From a spectator point-of-view, you would find lawn bowling more compelling.  If you go to a live marathon, you have about 14 seconds to see your spouse/friend/co-worker run past you.  If you watch it on TV, you can spend most of the time in the kitchen baking bread.  If you miss the whole race, you can catch the highlights on the evening news for there will only be one: the winner breaking through the white tape, bending over and vomiting all over his shoes.

These are big challenges and I think it’s time for runners and organizers to consider what running a marathon really means and figure out ways they can improve their sport.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Go Old School.  Runners could represent what the marathon originally stood for by selling themselves as couriers.  During their race they could transport packages or legal documents.  They could carry secret messages for organizations who need to convey information but don’t trust the government or big business.  Granted, some of these enterprises might be illegal in nature, but wouldn’t that add some excitement to the run?
  2. Town Crier.  I think it would be great if we had someone to spread the day’s news by running through the streets.  Who doesn’t get nostalgic when they hear from an open window “The British are coming” and “Apple stock is up 15%?”  Granted, any news is now available with the access of a smart phone.  So maybe news spread by marathon runners could be more personal and uplifting like “Mayor Slayton wishes everybody a wonderful Columbus Day and this Friday will be the last pickup for leaf bags.”
  3. Volunteer.  If somebody can run a marathon, what can’t they do?  Why should they limit themselves to only running?  Why can’t they incorporate 26 lonely miles into a noble enterprise?  I know many marathons already have causes, which is great.  After all RACE FOR THE CURE is a better than RUN FROM THE COPS.  Marathons for cancer research is a great idea but why not go one step further and ask the runners to go to the houses and collect the pledges from the sponsors?  Or if this seems like a logistical nightmare, how about having runners pick up trash along a marathon route?  Suddenly it isn’t the person with the lowest time but TIME – TRASH COLLECTED = WINNER.  I know I certainly would come out and cheer the marathon if the runners came down my block.

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