I just got back from an amazing Mediterranean cruise, and one of my stops happened to be the historic city of Athens. We owe a lot of our world to this Greek capital like philosophy, the Olympics, architecture, gyros smothered in tzatziki sauce, but there’s one negative thing (in my opinion) that the Greeks gave us (besides their current financial status), and that is the marathon.
The legend of the origin of the marathon goes something like this… After the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, a Greek fighter and messenger named Philippides ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to announce that he and his fellow soldiers had successfully defeated the Persians. It is said that he ran the entire distance of about 25 miles without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming, “we have won!” And then he collapsed and died.
That’s right, the first man to run the marathon was actually killed by it, which supports my belief that running is bad for your health. If it killed a Greek soldier, well then, who am I, with my mediocre physique, to tempt fate?
I heard the other day that New Delhi, India is so polluted that running a marathon there is equivalent to smoking 8,600 cigarettes. That report came from NPR, so you know it means that it was (a) true and (b) researched by a Prius-driving Democrat, whom I can assume also wants us to reduce our exhaling carbon emissions. Who am I to argue with Al Gore on a lift machine? But just think about this for a second – eight thousand-six hundred cigarettes in the span of a few hours. That even makes the Marlboro man’s cowboy boots shrivel. And we’re talking about New Delhi where they burn plastic bottles filled with coal just to make the sky darker. In 490 BC, the Greek soldier Philippides ran in probably the most pristine air conditions, and he still died.
So science has spoken, running is bad for your health. But I’m the biassed guy that’s just going to take science at its word here and not argue with the facts, because truth be told, I hate running. I don’t mind getting some exercise by chasing a soccer ball around a rectangular field for a few minutes. But I hate running, because, well, it’s boring. Now, I cycle, but cycling is different than running because a good ride is like 50 miles, and you can see a lot in 50 miles. A century ride is kind of like a cyclist’s marathon, and imagine how much you can see in 100 miles. But running? It’s so slow. If I wasn’t subjecting my body to a whole lot of pain, I’d probably just fall asleep. Instead of running 26 miles, why not park your car like a mile away, run to it, then go for a 24 mile drive and then park your call another mile away from your house? At least then you’ll see a bit of the world, instead of running where you see the front side of the tree and five minutes later, you see the backside. I know… really stimulating!
The second reason I hate running is because, well, it hurts. I mean think about it. Every step, you are lifting your entire body into negative gravity and then driving it back down into the ground with incredible force. Every bone, ligament, and organ is getting jostled around like a gold-plated el camino in an early 1990s hip hop video. Every step, my brain is saying, “Dude, this sucks.” And I tell it, “But just another mile.” And then my body says, “Dude, this is painful.” And so I negotiate and say, “Okay, how about a half mile more.” And then my brain is like, “Really? You know we could just stop and sit on a couch.” And that’s when I say, “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s just do a quarter mile and call it a day.”
I have a friend, who runs every morning, once tell me that sometimes it’s difficult for him to get going, but at about the 3 mile mark, he just gets into his groove and motors through it. The 3 mile mark? You mean, I have to run three miles just to feel like running? Umm, I’ll pass and continue eating bacon.
For the record, I did run three miles once. Actually, it was the other day while we were in the midst of this Mediterranean excursion. On this particular day, we were in Rome, and we were to be back on the ship by 6:30 PM. Unfortunately, our western appreciation for punctuality does not translate to Italian. So first our train was a half hour late leaving Rome, and then when we actually got to the port city, the Italian bus driver who was assigned to drive from the train station to the port told us he’d leave at like 6:35. Yep, he was going to leave five minutes after we were supposed to be on the ship, and of course since it’s Italy, we can only assume that it was probably going to be more like 7 PM.
So we started running, futilely looking for taxis during siesta like a boss searching for a solid work ethic among his millennial employees. There were none to be found. So we kept running and running until we got to the gates of the port. Now here’s the thing about ports. You think, “Man, I made it,” but you’ve still got miles to go. Cruise ships should have a bumper sticker that says, “Ship is much further than it appears.” So we started running again, sprinting to the sounds of the ship blowing it’s all-aboard horn. And with each step, it looked like that giant cruise ship wasn’t getting any closer.
And here’s the thing that makes it worse: the taxi drivers, who had just dropped off passengers at the ship, were passing us going the other way. I finally was able to flag one down, because you know I was running with my wife and three little kids, and we were not properly prepared for this impromptu 5k with our sandals, jeans, backpacks, and all. So like your encouraging mom who lies to you and says, “You’re almost there honey,” this guy says, “Come on man, you’re only like 100 meters away.” Now, I’m American, so I have no idea what 100 meters is, but after running another mile and finally making it, I understand why this guy drives taxis and doesn’t build things that require exact measurements. Thank God he has a taximeter to keep him honest.
All I could think about as we were running to the boat was that there’s probably some guy sipping his papaya and mango margarita sitting on his port-side balcony taking a video of our struggle to make it to the ship before it takes off. But the joke’s on him because had he organized this otherwise impromptu 5k, he could have made some serious cash. Now all he gets is a YouTube video of my family of five sprinting to the ship. And it’s not like the boat left us behind, so good luck making that video go viral.
Now, I can only assume that this particular sprint to the boat may have taken 5 years off of my life, but it taught me a valuable lesson. I want to be that guy on the balcony sipping margaritas while other people run a race that I organize. Marathons are really quite a brilliant pyramid scheme if you think about it. You pay me, and I let you run. And then you can get other people who want to support your “bravery” but wouldn’t dare tempt fate themselves, pay for you to run, and their money goes to me. I’m really failing to see the downside to this entrepreneurial endeavor here. Yeah, I know, usually people run for something noble like curing world hunger, so we’d have to think of something to motivate people’s generosity. I know; why don’t we have a marathon in New Delhi to fundraise for an anti-smoking campaign. Those who finish not only get a black sticker of a lung with 26.2 written in it that they can proudly display it on their oil burning vehicle, but they also get to participate in a study for lung cancer. And I’ve got the best name for this daring jaunt of natural selection… Youth in Asia. Get it? Okay, maybe that’s a little too Jack Kevorkian. We should just call it the Philippides 42k.
Photo by Neil Cornwall. Music “Spy Glass” by Kevin MacLeod.