Sunday, May 13, 2007

Marathon Post Script

I’m not enthralled by the Marathon, because the event is too extreme (even too long to comfortably watch). Still I’m in awe of the world’s elite marathoners for what they can do, how fast they can run for such a long distance. They’re machines. The best of them have run the marathon at a sub-30 10k pace which is absolutely mind boggling. Even the women, in an event that must be the most unsuitable for females barring blood sports, are amazing. But my reverence for the elite fades quickly to mockery for the masses who attempt the marathon and for two good reasons – aesthetic and practical. First things first – the Marathon must be run, not walked or a combination thereof. The legend of Pheidippides and his race against time which led to his dying is what the marathon is all about. Traveling twenty six miles by foot is not an accomplishment for a human being, entire nomadic tribes do that and more every day when they’re on the move, but running it (meaning at one point in your stride both feet are off the ground) certainly is. How many people can really do a Marathon? Damn few, which is why at first only Olympians ran it before the general public adopted the race as something they wanted to do too. An easy three to four mile jog is done at around seven minutes a mile, a pace which if held would result in a three hour marathon. Things which are easy become hard over the marathon distance. The first Olympic gold medal winner, a Greek goat herder, finished the distance in just a little over that pace and that’s about as slow as you can run the marathon. Yet despite this hard held opinion I wouldn’t ever deny to someone’s face their claim to have done a marathon even if the time was over five hours. What do I care? My real antagonism to the marathon for Joe Average lies in believing people should be trying to establish a long term exercise regime for their health rather than attempting the distance. Even people wanting to just finish are typically recommended to build their runs up over a few months from 25 to 60 kilometers per week, with ½ to ¾ of each week’s distance to be done in one run on the weekend. All training like that does is build up tolerance to pain. The fact the programs are only weeks in length says volumes about the average participant’s intentions. What happens after? Surely it would be better to begin running three times a week for thirty minutes and gradually build up your runs over the following years? Going out on a warm summer morning or a crisp fall day for a short run can be a lot of fun. Running over 20k rarely so. After the first hour any pleasures initially felt start to bleed away (those who’ve experienced blistering will know what I mean). Novices training for the marathon in one suggested program are supposed to put in a 30k run (20 miles) three months into training! So I can’t help but believe attempting the marathon is only going to associate running with pain - and that can’t be good motivation to run for the rest of your life. So don’t do it. Racing 5k is plenty to begin with, and in two or three years if you like the racing part then graduate to the 10k. But for heaven’s sake stop there. There is a life outside of running.

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