Friday, December 6

Marathon Haters & My Extended Family

"My haters are my motivators."
- Ellen DeGeneres

Back in November I came across three similar articles within the span of a week. Each had a different angle, but they all shared a common denominator: bashing marathons. The purpose of this post is not to refute their claims, but to provide my own perspective on why folks run marathons. But first, allow me to provide a very brief summary with some commentary on each aforementioned article...

The Terrifying Hell A Marathon Inflicts On The Human Body

I'm pretty sure the title of this one says it all. The author, who ran the 2005 Boston Marathon unofficially (he wasn't registered, nor -- I assume -- did he qualify), describes the negative physical effects that take place after running a marathon. Furthermore, he outlines bodily changes that occur from the impact of running 26.2 miles. He notes, however, that "for the overwhelming majority of runners... these changes are transient and full recovery occurs within days, without any apparent long-term adverse consequences." While reading this article it became clear that this guy, who slammed an entire key lime pie and bag of Doritos post-marathon, wasn't the smartest runner on the planet. To be fair, he was very honest with his portrayal of some data, citing a study of 215,413 runners, four of which had sudden cardiac death (0.002%) while running.

OK, You're a Runner. Get over It

I'm pretty sure the title of this one says it all as well. (Amazing how plainspoken an author can be before you even read the first sentence, isn't it?) This author proposes the question: "What's with this infatuation with running and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it?" He references runners' that have "13.1" or "26.2" stickers on their cars as among those "preening." He suggests that some runners run so that they have something to boast about.

26 Reasons Not To Run A Marathon

The opening sums it up well: "It's certainly an admirable feat to run 26.2 miles, but it's not for everyone. And since we're in the thick of prime marathon season -- is anyone else's Facebook feed full of finisher's medals and PR times and charity donation pleas?! -- we thought we might throw a bone the way of the non-marathoners. Hey, it's okay if you don't want to run a marathon. In fact, science may even be on your side." The author goes on to list a reason for each mile of a marathon for why you shouldn't run one.

Most of the opinions in these posts seem to be misguided at best. A few, though, I really agree with. And it is at this point that I will run the risk of offending some of my extended family in the endurance sports realm...

I will concede that the actual event of running 26.2 miles is not optimal for health. <Gasp!> I repeat: running a marathon is not the healthiest thing one can do. But isn't this sort of obvious? The Paleo/Primal side of me has to impart some common sense wisdom here, in that there are certainly other ways to stay healthy that don't involve running that far. I mean let's be honest with ourselves. And that means you, too, Ironman triathletes. Swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and then running a marathon isn't much healthier. Those events take an enormous toll that don't optimize for health.

Having said that, there are undoubtedly some physical benefits that make us healthier as a result from training, staying active and being fit. But it all comes back to how we do it. Luckily, the old dogma of the day is starting to fade. People are achieving performance without sacrificing their health. By implementing a "less is more" strategy with an emphasis on recovery and nutrition, healthy living doesn't have to interfere with achieving athletic performance (and vice versa). I'm trying to demonstrate that now on my path to Houston. Fortunately for me, I'm coached by someone who gets it, and am a part of a Club that gets it.

So, where does that leave us? Why run a marathon?

I can't possibly address all reasons here, as there are countless combinations based on an individual's context and circumstance. Some do it as a bucket-list achievement while others need an ambitious goal to drive them out of the couch potato life style.

One of the main reasons, at least for me, is apparent in something I alluded to earlier: my extended family. You see, the people I've met, fund-raised with, raced against or worked out alongside are far more than a community, they're a family. Endurance sports like marathons have brought us and kept us together. Because of marathons, I've become closer to my uncle than I would have ever imagined. Because of triathlons, I've got a new group of friends, many of whom will be at my wedding!

Coincidentally the week after I had read three different 'marathon hater' articles I saw another post come through via Twitter that carried a much different tone: Jim's Last Group Run. It brought a tear to my eye the author described his dear friend, Jim, a man who died while doing what he loved: running. The relationships and community he built through running are evident in the picture below, where his friends and family followed Jim's hearse to his funeral for one last "group run."

This weekend (weather permitting!) I'll be running with thousands of my extended family in the Dallas Marathon & Half Marathon. Many will run for various different reasons. For some, this will be their one and only bucket list achievement, others will be aiming for a personal best. Regardless of the reason, we'll all be united by a common bond, a bond that unless you've ever done one, you'll never quite understand. A bond that drives us to post silly Facebook posts, wear finishers shirts and represent "26.2" stickers. 

Oh, and to all haters: you're damn right we'll be proud of it!

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