What I rant about when I rant about running
Allow me to tell you a thing or two about running marathons. It is limp-like-a-gangsta days for me, having just returned from Boston, where, I believe, the healthy bits of my legs are now scattered finely across the roads. They are nowhere to be found around here.
Given that it is one of the few races for which you have to qualify, Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of achievement for amateur runners. It is also the oldest annual marathon in the universe and part of the World Marathon Majors, the premier league of the running world.
All of the Majors sell out every year, so the organisers use various filtering mechanisms to keep numbers manageable. Boston recognises merit (how fast you can run), whereas London is primarily interested in the value you represent (how much money you can raise for charity), making it the planet’s biggest fundraising event.
This is obviously a great idea.
But having been born and bred in a country where the state provides most of the things that charities do here, I find it deeply embarrassing to ask friends, family, colleagues and (yikes!) clients to sponsor me to do something I really enjoy doing. On the other hand, I will never pay £2,000 out of my own pocket to run 42.2 km in the streets of my hometown. This is not going to earn me the Nobel Prize, but I find arbitrary ‘charity taxation’ slightly odd. Why not apply the same principles to child births, driving or travelling abroad? I hope the British charity bug does not spread to the other great races, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston.
Filtering mechanisms aside, running marathons has become a staple part of the global white middle-class self-fulfillment repertoire. The fastest runners are from Kenya and the rest reside in altogether different socio-demographic categories. Marathons are indeed made of the stuff white people like.
Marathon running is possibly the sport with the biggest gap between elite and mainstream practitioners, so the recent surge in popularity may not change this picture in the foreseeable future. Utrecht Marathon tried to promote ‘local’ winners by offering only 1/100 of the prize money if a foreigner (i.e. a Kenyan) took the first spot, a blatantly stupid move, offset ever so slightly by means of private intervention by a Dutch businessman.
Speaking of money, your average marathon runner has lots of disposable income.
This is reflected in the never-ending stream of kit, coaching and ‘nutrition’ products directly targeting runners. Colourful liquids (with fancy indicative names such as ‘hydro power recovery booster’, ‘space shuttle energiser’ and ‘enriched muscle power fountain’), compression bands for every imaginable body part, titanium discs that will take away any pain before it appears (click here for further inspiration) and, the big thing at the moment, barefoot running shoes (see the irony) at prices that would otherwise land you a small island, to name just a few. People love this stuff.
I highly recommend the PeBuPaPa diet, developed by neuro-biologists at Bordeaux University and scientists from the MIT biotech cluster/Harvard. This tried and tested pre-race combo consists of Peanut Buttered Pancakes and Painkillers (PeBuPaPa). They are working on a shoe made of uranium enriched organic peanut butter and stem cells, so watch this space.
While I consider running a most enjoyable activity, I have little desire to join the ‘running community’. People who get excited about the concept of a ‘pasta party’ – WHILE wearing a track suit indoors AND listening to loud ‘motivational’ music from the 90s – arouse suspicion in me. No offense, but I am just not that much into it…
What I do like, however, is the thrill of the race itself. Few things in this world stand up to passing through the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, allegedly the only (wo)man-made structure that can be heard from the moon, or running down monumental Unter den Linden in Berlin.
Talking to other runners, I am not the only one to have experienced brain tickles – like someone pouring small amounts of cold water directly onto your brain – when going through said tunnel or eyeing the finish line. This phenomenon, usually occurring well into the race, must have a medical classification that I am not aware of. While others will run for beer, I will continue pursuing that feeling. Right until the candle burns up my arm.