Over fall break, I completed my first half marathon. I have been running regularly for a little over 6 years and absolutely enjoy it: it’s a stress reliever, a time to listen to music and learn something new and exciting from podcasts, and a chance to process and sort through feelings of happiness or sadness. Running for me is also a fun way to explore new neighborhoods, towns, or cities. It allows me to get a fresh breath of air and the blood flowing: wakes me up in the morning, keeps me at it during the day, and helps me sleep at night. Why then, with all these positive reasons for running, do I bother with waking up at 4:30 a.m. on a cold and rainy Sunday to make the drive to Detroit and run 13.1 miles with over 20,000 other people? Not only, why pay about $100 to do so? It is both ludicrous and preposterous that anyone of sound mind who loves running for the reasons I cited above would therefore engage in such behavior. That is what we call contradiction and hypocrisy. So why did I do it? What is the value of running races?
One could say it is an accomplishment. While I can run a number of miles on a given day, I definitely had to train for running 13.1. But I would have been happy just pushing myself to run that distance that on my own and then said “tada!” end of story. One could say it’s for the competition, to win it. That would be simply illogical for me. I have a slightly limiting foot injury/condition, short legs, and most importantly, I simply don’t care that much. I run for the reasons listed above and have no ambition to win (except I did win a metal!)* One could try to argue that it’s for the free goodies and t-shirt. However, they weren’t free, there was a registration fee. I would not have bought that stuff on my own, including the fancy race shirt you get. One could argue it’s for the charity. Most races, including the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon and the Big House Big Heart 10k I ran the week before it are designed to raise money for charities. But I could have donated the money directly to the organizations, and it would have been a more direct and effective way of helping them because the race organizers used some of my money to cover costs of the race. Why race then? Couldn’t I have run other interesting and fun routes on my own and worked had to do so without the support of spectators and friends, and also fun new people I met along the way?
There are also down sides to racing, other than the inconvenience. For one, it isn’t environmentally friendly. Each person needs a paper bib to identify their race number. Races provide water bottles and wrapped and processed food for after the race. Along the way there are water and Gatorade stations that use thousands of paper and plastic cups. People travel for miles, emitting carbon dioxide and using gas. People book hotel rooms, taking up more human space. People buy clothing to warm them up and then take off and leave by the side of the road. In addition, running is not the healthiest sport, it’s rough on the limbs and training in it can lead to injury. Marathon runners must overcome the dangers of dehydration, malnutrition, and overheating and there have been many deaths during these races.
All this makes running races sound great right? Well, I personally think that it is an amazing experience, which is the reason I did it. I run for the thrill of running and I race for the experience of the race. I wanted to run around Detroit, over the bridge to Canada, and partake in the great excitement and enthusiasm of the moment. It’s one of the great times when you can literally live in the moment.
(Stock photo courtesy of sxc.hu)
*Everyone wins a metal, just FYI.