October 16, 2006
THE MASOCHISM OF THE LONG DISTANCE SECULARIST
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. Itâ€™s turned out much weirder.Posted by Peter Burnet at October 16, 2006 6:30 AM