October 16, 2006


The new opiate of the middle-class masses (Anne Marie Owens, National Post, October 16th, 2006)

When the enthusiasts make their way through the streets of Toronto or alongside the shores of Prince Edward Island this weekend, when they fill the downtown in Chicago and Washington, D.C., after that, it is unlikely they will be pelted with derisive epithets or rotten apples.

There was a time, not so long ago, when practitioners of long-distance running were the subject of societal ridicule for an extreme athletic pursuit that was regarded as freakish.

These days, however, marathon running is the quintessence of mainstream. It has become so common among the ranks of upwardly mobile professionals that participating in such a race is almost expected -- the ancient event has been transformed into a thoroughly modern status symbol that singlehandedly conveys fitness, financial success, work-life balance and an unerring ability to do it all.

"If you look at a cross-section of marathoners in a big race, it would be almost identical to a cross-section of the urban middle class," says Ian Ritchie, a sociologist who studies sport and is a marathoner himself. "The event reinforces the values which are important to that class: individual ability, merit as a reward system, self-discipline, hard work, organization, constantly striving for self-improvement."

Between 400,000 and 500,000 people across North America run marathons in a single year, with October the busiest month of all.[...]

For Trish Murphy, a 52-year-old Calgary resident who shuttles between her native Dublin, her Canadian home and various exotic locales, the only constant in her peripatetic life is her long-distance running.

She took it up as a stay-at-home mother in a new city with no friends or community, where the long runs provided the regularity and discipline she desired.

"Running is not competitive, it is community," insists Ms. Murphy, who has competed in five marathons, the most recent, the legendary one in Boston. "You compete against yourself, your time, your desires to do another one ... We lead such hectic lives, running long distances gives a structure to your day, to your life really. It gives you that sense that you can do anything."

Remember way back when conservatives warned that the decline of the spiritual life would lead to overall sloth, gluttony, vice and dissipation? Did we ever call that one wrong. It’s turned out much weirder.

Posted by Peter Burnet at October 16, 2006 6:30 AM

Great post -- great link!

I'd like to know more about Trish, who shuttles between her homes in Calgary and Dublin and other exotic locales, and has the time and resources to train for long distance running.

Hardly your typical middle-class-matron, I'd say. More like your typical wealthy self-absorbed and bored aging yuppie cum boomer desperately trying to fend off impending old age by engaging in behavior more suitable for high school kids.

Posted by: erp at October 16, 2006 9:50 AM

In a former life when I had legitimate employment, I worked for a company that sponsored the Chicago Marathon, so many of us were volunteers. A stay in the medical tent one year convinced me that this is something I never needed to do: core body temperatures at 90 degrees because there is no glucose left; chafing; blisters the size of your palm; and bleeding from places where one really shouldn't. That said, you had to admire the elite runners who finish looking like death warmed over and then look like they could run it again after a half hour rest.

Posted by: Rick T at October 16, 2006 10:24 AM

The shortest oxymoron: "fun run".

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 16, 2006 11:15 AM

What is really a giggle is when you imagine some of these ultra-modern types railing in horror against the cruelty of the old Church's urging the pious to climb catherdral steps on their knees.

Posted by: Peter B at October 16, 2006 12:10 PM

The only running that would ever appeal to me is the Hash. A run that includes copious amounts of beer along the way, and ends at a pub, almost sounds appealing.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 16, 2006 3:48 PM

Years ago, (late 70s, early 80s) among the NPS maintenence employees at (if memory serves) Grant Village in Yellowstone, there was for several years a 1/8 mile marathon, with a keg at the halfway point. No one ever finished.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 16, 2006 8:24 PM

Just completed marathon number 43 Sunday in Des Moines. I am attempting to run one in all fifty states - only thirty more states to go. It is a wonderful excuse to see the country and stay in reasonable condition at the same time.

Posted by: Darryl at October 17, 2006 10:12 AM