Don’t ask me when I’m going to run a marathon

“Le soldat de Marathon” by Luc-Olivier Merson, 1869

I have been a runner for over 15 years, and for at least half of those years, I ran competitively. What offends me is not to be called a jogger, but when people ask me whether or not I have run a marathon, and if not, then when.

The marathon is a sporting event not for the faint of heart; it requires many months of training, and even with sufficient training, there are health risks associated with it. But telling avid marathoners that routinely training for such long distances may not be good for their health is a bit like telling supporters of the coal industry that burning fossil fuels causes climate change.

While there is nothing wrong with running a marathon, provided that one trains sufficiently and is aware of the risks, I simply have no intentions of ever running a marathon at any point in my lifetime. It is not because of various pejorative attributions such as being “lazy” or a “couch potato;” I am far from being either of those things. As a runner, achieving such distances is simply not a goal for me, it is not a milestone I find appealing. In the world of track and field, 5 kilometers and 10 kilometers are considered long distance. In my view, the greater achievement is in time not ultra-distance. Many, many people have run marathons, but very, very few have run sub-four minute miles.

Marathoners, however, are a different breed of runners, and like the proponents of clean eating, they harbor a certain sententious and smug superiority over runners of distances that are perceived by some as being less impressive. The magazine, Runner’s World, should adopt a more appropriate moniker such as Marathoner’s World, as much of their coverage centers around marathons and ultra-distance running.

So forgive my indignation the next time I am asked when I am going to run a marathon. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the droves of people who aspire to compete in or at the very least complete a marathon every year, especially considering how the story of Marathon ends. Let us remind ourselves for posterity: after running from Marathon to Athens to report the Greek victory over the Persians, Pheidippides collapsed, and subsequently perished.



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