Saturday, February 7, 2015

Marathons are easy – it’s the training that’s hard

Back in late 70’ when I ran my first marathon there were about 25000 people a year running marathons in the US.   In those days, unless you lived in Boston or were training for the Olympics,  you didn’t tell people you ran marathons if you wanted to avoid the kind of strange looks given to people who talk to themselves.   According to Running USA, by 2010 that number had ballooned to over a half million (20X increase for those mathematically challenged…wish all my investments were doing that good).  At the same time, the average age for men has also increased from in the 30’s to over 40.   A few of us older guys still around from the 70’s who haven’t worn their legs down to nubs are apparently pulling up the number.   

In the late 70’s the Marathon world record for men was a little over 2 hours and 9 min (2:09).  For women it was 2:35.  By 2014 the gap between men and women dropped from 26 minutes to 13 minutes (2:02:57 vs 2:15:25).  While the men’s marathon record breaking times have been dominated by Kenyans over the last 4 years (latest was in Berlin in Oct. 2014) the woman’s marathon record has not been touched since Paula Radcliff (UK) set it in 2003.    To put the men’s time in perspective, that is averaging about 4:45/mile for 26+ consecutive miles.  Mindboggling.

Not only are marathoners getting older and faster, they are getting younger as well.    Currently in the US the minimum age for running a marathon is 18 but before that age limit was in place the record was set by a 9 year old.   In other parts of the world the limits are less stringent.  The world’s youngest marathoner started before he was 5 years old.   By the age of 5 he had run 48 marathons.  

An acquaintance recently proposed that the uptick in marathoners is a sign of some kind of evolutionary change to our DNA that is gradually infecting the brains with a form of athletic insanity like Alzheimer’s or early stage dementia.   He points to the increase in marathons, Triathlons, and mudder/obstacle runs as examples.   Still others have suggested running is becoming an addiction and it is time to start a national Runners Anonymous program (they may have a good point).    Some runners claim the health benefits will help them live longer and healthier lives.    I can provide first hand evidence that at the end of some marathons “longer” and “healthier” are not terms that come to mind.  “Shoot me now and put me out of my misery” may be more apropos.

Whatever the reason, I find myself again facing a winter of running to get back in shape for the 2015 Boston Marathon.    As usual I’m dealing with an injury that has me behind in training and fighting to get back on the roads but I’m still committed to make it to the starting line in April. 

I’m sure this will be another adventurous year!

Happy New Year!