Thursday, May 12, 2011

Marathons: Adults Doing Athletics Right

"The music of a marathon is a powerful strain, one of those tunes of glory. It asks us to forsake pleasures, to discipline the body, to find courage, to renew faith and to become one's own person, utterly and completely."
-George Sheehan

Running was punishment. We ran several laps for being late. Having an attitude or just not getting your head in the game resulted in a few more suicides at the end of practice. Sprints and long runs were devised as torture devices by coaches, right? Well, I believed all of this to be true and thought my older brother tended towards masochism when he ran cross country and track in high school. He then challenged me to join the cross country team my junior year in high school after dropping another sport. Curious as to the appeal and unable to back down from a challenge, I began running over the summer and joined in the fall semester. Since then, I have never looked back. I fell in love with the running culture. I ran two years of cross country and completed two half marathons as well as one full marathon.

There is a culture which surrounds running and within the last few decades has spurred a surge in marathons and shorter distance runs across the United States and the world. The overwhelming majority of participants range from young adults to well beyond middle-aged. In the midst of a society in which kids travel to neighboring states to compete in athletics at an age when cooties are still a very real concern, adults are seeking out a different type of athletic challenge and having the fun. I am not asserting that kids don’t love sports, nor am I attempting to demonize competition at a young age. Instead, I am trying to call attention to the surge of people competing in marathons and emphasize how they are reaping the benefits of athletics—in terms of the physique as well as character—after everyone else has checked them out as too old to “play”. Those who obsess over youth sports could learn from the adults lacing up their shoes, donning their game faces and running 26.2 miles.

Quite a few things make marathon running unique. First of all, it requires infinitely less gear than most other athletic activities. You need a just need cleared space and running shoes. That makes it more accessible to people from all classes. Also, training can be done at one’s own pace and runs can be completed either with peers or all alone at whatever time is most convenient. People can be as fast or slow as they desire and they can still run (with the exception of races like the Boston Marathon). Running is an equal opportunity sport. It’s democratic. A large number of service organizations and charities encourage persons to run and raise money for a greater cause; thus it contributes to the larger society. The race day also has the excitement and atmosphere comparative to a street festival. Marathon races are social affairs! Asking most people who have participated in marathons about their experiences, it is likely to get responses from people raving about how competing in a marathon was a transformative experience.

I am writing this to draw attention to the phenomenon of marathon running and offer it as a sharp contrast to what people criticize about youth sports. The adults have got it right. Marathons are, if nothing else, inspiring—something the world needs. Kathrine Switzer, a women’s marathoning pioneer, said “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon”. She’s right.

Connie Jones, ND 2011
Social Foundations of Coaching