Sunday, January 13, 2013

Marathons are for Sissies


When did running a marathon become passé? Recently an acquaintance asked me in passing what I do for exercise. I mentioned that I ran distance races and in the course of the conversation the Boston marathon came up. His response was along the lines of “that’s nice but have you ever done a Spartan Race”. He then proceeded to give me the blow by blow description of what sounded like a 5 mile run with periodic torture obstacles along the way. While he never said it outright, there was clearly a tone of “real men have moved on from simple marathons”.

There have always been crazy people willing to try insane feats of physical effort, and challenging others to join them (usually as a result of copious amounts of alcohol). But it does seem like over the last 30 years that the one-up–man ship has gone beyond what most people would considered reasonable.

I ran my first marathon in 1978, the same year the Iron Man Triathlon was run. At that time the Boston Marathon attracted about 5000 elite runners; the Hawaii Iron Man had 15. The number of people competing in Iron Man Triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full marathon run - 26.2 miles) has doubled in the last 10 years to 170,000 per year (another 1 million participate in triathlons of shorter distances).

Dwarfing the growth in triathlons is the growth in the obstacle runs. Relatively short by comparison (most are 3-10 miles) their physical challenge is in the obstacles that have to be completed along the way. Standard obstacles might include climbing walls and hay bales, crawling in the mud under barb wire (sometimes electrified), carrying logs or sandbags up ski slopes, wading/swimming across rivers or pools of ice water, crossing logs over pits of snakes (I just made up the snakes), mud and butter covered monkey bars and rope climbs. Some of the more challenging include crawling through small tunnels on your belly, attempting to climb sheets of ice/snow or running through a maze of hanging electrical wires ( They come with names like Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, or Tough Mudder, and participation has grown from several thousand participants in the 2006-2007 timeframe to estimates of over 1 million participants in 2012.

If that is not enough for you there are always ultra marathons, running distances greater than 26.2miles. They come in two flavors: distance based (50 miles, 100 miles, 1000 miles), and those that are time based (as many miles as you can run in 6, 12, or 24 hours). Only 70,000 people compete in these annually. It’s hard to get your head around someone running 500 miles in 7 days but I have a friend (Pippa Davis) who was once the third fastest woman in US in the event. And for the especially sanity challenged you can choose to run these ultra’s in places like Death Valley or the Sahara desert.

Of course for me, I’m just happy to be one of the 600,000 who finished a marathon in the US last year (actually 2 marathons). And I’ll be even happier if the body hangs together long enough for me to make it through this year’s Boston Marathon. Like the last 6 years, I will be blogging my way through another New England winter training while raising funds for Help in the Nick of Time. Join me for what should be an entertaining blog trip leading up to the marathon. It will certainly be a lot more fun than competing in obstacle races, iron man triathlons or ultra marathons.

1 comment:

Edmund X. DeJesus said...

great as always!

ed dejesus