The looniness of long distance running

Short of the storm of the century, there is not much that is allowed to get in the way of the long distance runners and their highs. In fact, the New York City Marathon almost went on, officially, despite the chaos created by Hurricane Sandy.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially decided to proceed with the run, even in the midst of having inadequate resources to deal with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. He kept up with this crazy idea for two days while his constituents were crying out for food, drinking water, heat,  shelter, clothing, and other necessities swept away by the storm.

While former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani became known as America’s Mayor, Bloomberg seems to be competing for the title of “America’s Nanny.” He’s incessantly focused on “protecting” the public (from horrors like soda) except when they really need some help. Bloomberg’s big city government is there when you don’t want or need it. But missing in action when it comes to those services citizens really do need, if only temporarily and in an emergency.

But the whole marathon issue made me doubt Bloomberg’s decision-making ability even more. How could he even consider tying up city streets, as well as law enforcement and emergency medical personnel that were desperately needed in Staten Island, City Island, Breezy Point, the Battery, and other areas? (All at taxpayer expense, mind you.) 

After enough public outcry, Bloomberg finally relented and cancelled the Marathon. But runners are a persistent bunch…

A lot of would-be marathoners had already made it to Manhattan before the Mayor’s belated cancellation. Many of them sensibly offered to help as volunteers with emergency management support for the victims. But, believe it or not, many others decided to hold their own marathon in Central Park in defiance of the mayor, common sense, and common dignity. And after these mini-marathoners went ahead and were finished with their own unsanctioned event, they simply left behind generators, blankets, and other critical supplies that were sorely needed cross-town in devastated areas.

The extremes to which some will go simply to run long distances—only to end up right back where they started—is beyond me. I wonder how many modern day marathoners know the actual story from Ancient Greece?  

After the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, Pheidipeddes ran the 26 miles back to Athens to deliver the news to the citizens there. When he arrived, poor Pheidipiddes promptly collapsed from exhaustion and died. And, if you ask me, Pheidipiddes’ demise was the real message of Marathon.

I was a cross country runner in high school and college. And there is nothing like traveling on foot through Nature. But I have never understood the folly of pounding pavement and breathing in auto exhaust emissions, or covering such long distances. 

The human skeleton and musculature is not designed to pound hard pavement, mile after mile. This behavior has contributed to an epidemic of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips that has fed the orthopedic surgery industry as well as the dietary supplement industry with joint supplements—most of which don’t have any real science behind them.

But despite these drawbacks, long distance running is becoming an epidemic of sorts. The “loneliness of the long distance runner” has now been replaced by the looniness of the crowded herds. With out-of-shape, would-be marathoners running through every town and city somewhere on virtually every weekend. Again tying up law enforcement personnel and emergency responders as well as public thoroughfares.

Between bike riders and marathon runners there’s sometimes no room for everyday people, trying to get weekend errands accomplished.

Here’s a suggestion: spend some time and energy doing yard work, house work or playing with dog or children. Or just take a walk in the woods, or do some bird watching.  Your bones and joints will thank you for it. And so will the motorists.