Stop Going the Distance

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Marathons are great if you hate everyone, including yourself. Training for one guarantees you’ll spend countless hours alone and in incredible pain. I’ve never run exactly 26.2 miles, but I have finished three ultras ranging from 32 to 43 miles. In my defense, I did them when I was young and dumb. I’m not any smarter now, but I am lazier, and that counts for a lot. Extreme distance running puts unnecessary wear and tear on every tissue and organ but offers no pleasure or utility in return. Real life situations call for short bursts of speed, not meandering plods to nowhere. No one in human history has said, “I could’ve escaped this danger if only I could hold an eight-minute pace for just over two dozen miles.” An animal attacker would easily catch such a slow runner in the first few steps, and a human assailant would simply run them over with a car. The only people who think a marathon is an admirable goal are the ones who need to justify why they spent three miserable months training for an event no one else cares about. Most people would rather dry hump an electric fence than listen to you talk about your “26.2” bumper sticker. The only thing that finishing a marathon proves is you value neither your free time nor your life. You may have set a new personal record, but the real winner is anyone who didn’t run at all.

Finishing a marathon proves you’re unique and special, just like the other 10,000 runners who did exactly the same thing that morning.

That’s not to say I’m opposed to all running. I do a few short races a year because my friends want me to and there’s unlimited free beer afterward. At this point in my life, I’ll commit to almost anything for peer pressure and alcohol. But if you add distance and take away the booze, I’m out. Once the mileage enters the double digits, runners have to use Band-Aids and Vaseline at key points on the body to avoid chaffing. When your hobby makes your nipples bleed on a daily basis, you need to sit down and take a hard look at your life choices. That’s the second reason I started running without a shirt on. The first was to show off my sexy, blindingly-white torso. You’re welcome, world. I discovered the harsh physical toll of extreme distance running the hard way, which is honestly the only way I learn anything. To get ready for collegiate cross country, I ran 10 erotically-shirtless miles a day. I was able to do it because I was only 18 and still had cartilage in my knees, although I quickly used it all up. In hindsight, I should have devoted my time to something less destructive, like Alaskan crab fishing or the rodeo. There are bull riders with fewer lingering injuries than I have.

The first man to win a marathon was super pissed when he found out cars had been invented. He traveled more than 20 miles on foot for nothing.
The human body simply isn’t optimized for running extreme distances. Experts disagree on whether jogging in shoes or doing it barefoot causes more injuries, but the fact that the debate is over which one damages you more, not which one damages you period, tells you everything you need to know about the sport. There’s a theory that humans evolved to be distance runners as a hunting advantage, but I don’t believe it. If ancient man really ran marathon-like distances to catch prey, then a group of hunters would burn more calories in the chase than they could ever gain from an animal small enough to kill and carry back. A successful hunt would almost guarantee starvation, which isn’t a great way to promote survival. Furthermore, if someone got injured along the way, which happens approximately 100 percent of the time in running, the hobbled guy would fall behind and get stomped to death by a woolly mammoth. An elephant never passes up a chance for revenge.

While the risk of being crushed to death by a woolly mammoth is about 10 percent lower now than in prehistoric times, extreme distance running is still dangerous today. Recent studies show running a marathon damages the heart and hardens the arteries. Cardiac tissue simply can’t support that kind of sustained stupidity. That stabbing sensation in your chest isn’t a weakness you should overcome; it’s your body’s cry for help. Pain is kind of like the “check engine” light in your car. It’s OK to ignore it for a while, but if you do an extended trip with it on, you’ll end up dead on the side of the road. An octogenarian recently finished a marathon and then died the next day. I’m sure that last-place participation medal was worth more than a few extra years of life.

Statistically speaking, a marathon isn’t any more dangerous to the elderly than getting out of the bathtub. Everything kills old people.

Some people think extreme distances are good for them because of the fabled runners high, but they’re misinterpreting the body’s chemical signals. In my experience, the endorphins don’t kick in until after I stop running. The runner’s high is my body’s reward to me for abandoning my attempt to kill it. My organs hope that if they remind me how good it feels to be alive, I might avoid cardio-induced suicide in the future.

Contrary to claims that it has a historic origin, the marathon is a modern perversion created around the start of the 20th-century by people intent on feeling accomplished in their otherwise unremarkable lives. The reason the race eventually became 26.2 miles is that’s how far it had to be to finish in front of the queen of England’s viewing box. Marathoners still run that distance today because apparently we fought the Revolutionary War for nothing. Just think of how much suffering could’ve been avoided if the royal seats were 10.72 miles away or some other shorter but equally arbitrary distance. Anyone who says they enjoy running marathons is a liar. By the halfway point, the only thing anyone wants is to be done. If your sense of self-worth is tied to destroying your own body so that you can show off to others, then I strongly recommend you find a new way to kill yourself, like heroin. At least that one will make you feel good and you can do it while you sit down.