Oh, running 26.2 miles at the break of dawn doesn’t sound enjoyable to you? Too bad, sucker. That’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. If my Facebook feed counts as a scientific sample, then 83% of people in their twenties are currently training for, have just run, or are pretending to have just run a marathon. It’s an epidemic! An over-priced Lululemon wearing, cutesy motivational poster posting epidemic! The worst kind. You know, other than Ebola.
Naturally, I have a theory. Our generation’s sudden interest in running boils down to this: We’re a bunch of jerks. When we graduated college, just a few short years ago, we were wide-eyed and optimistic. Y’all, we were going to save the world! That job we took, wresting candy and toys from cancer-ridden orphans? Temporary. We just needed to finish up our Peace Corps application. Fast-forward a few years, when we’ve trashed the application altogether and are really enjoying our new gold-plated toilet. Shit. What happened to that spunky, quixotic kid we used to be? There must be a way we can recover that golden aura of inner goodness! Enter the marathon.
Pardon me, while I get a little academic up in here, readers. You see, I live for studies on body image and cultural perceptions of beauty. One of my favorites is the “What Is Beautiful Is Good” study, which basically found that we think attractive people are nicer, more successful, and have rectums made of rainbows. In America? Universally attractive = physically fit. And nothing says “I am a fashionably trim bad-ass who can delicately bench-press a baby elephant!” like training for a marathon.
It’s a big deal. I will grant you that. You have to train like crazy, go on carb-loading binges, and there’s the ever-present danger of chafing. It’s a lot of damn work. It has a pretty big pay-off, however. When you tell people what you’re doing, they will act as if you just cured cancer. You will be called disciplined, persistent, and amazing! People will probably make t-shirts with your face on them, then come cheer you on at the race. When friends set you up on blind dates, they include your new-found athleticism in your vital This Person Is Awesome statistics: She works as an orphan oppressor, speaks Farsi, came in second for Miss Travis County, and runs marathons! You are suddenly like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and a star high-school quarterback. Obviously, you are on the road to sainthood, one mile at a time.
Nope. Sorry to rain on your parade, but you’re still an asshat. You’re just an asshat who now brags about that crazy cramp you got in mile thirteen. I know it’s hard to believe, but running dozens of miles does not erase your fondness for drop-kicking puppies or that time you slept with my boyfriend. That’s okay. We all have disappointments. Drinking tea and adding a “u” to color hasn’t made me British yet either.
What’s more, marathons aren’t necessarily good for you. Hear me out. I’m almost a doctor. (Really.) Running is good for you, yes. Extreme running is potentially not. Your heart is actually worse off at the end of running 26.2 miles than it was before. Cardiac Troponin T, one of the signs of possible heart damage, may now flow through your blood like herpes on the Jersey Shore. In some cases, your heart has actually changed shape and its ventricles are less efficient! It can take months for it to recover. If you repeat this multiple times? If you become that holy grail of fitness, talked about in hushed, awed tones by others: a marathoner? You could end up with scarring on your heart and calcified arteries. Fun times!
Here’s my advice: Instead of signing up for that marathon, where you will exchange money for a t-shirt, paper number, and a case of mild dehydration, go volunteer. It will make your soul smile, will still fool others into thinking you’re nice, and won’t damage your heart! Plus, I will find you less annoying. Please, just don’t go to the animal shelter. They still haven’t found a home for that poor Goldendoodle you “walked.”
Author’s Note: If you’re one of those people who purely loves to run, you may continue. Just understand that when I don’t compliment you on your new, glittery 26.2 bumper sticker, it’s not that I don’t think you’re neat. Unless you’re Ryan Reynolds, I just don’t give a shit about your marathon time.
Author’s Note Part Two: It should be noted that I don’t hate marathoners or runners or even Lululemon lovers. Follow your bliss, my dears. My point was this: running 26.2 miles doesn’t make you a good person. It doesn’t make you a bad one either. You’re just a person who runs a lot, good or bad. Happy Holidays!