AGREE OR DISAGREE?
Running a marathon used to be a big deal.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. Running a marathon isn’t any easier today than it was 5, 10, or 50 years ago. (Or isn’tmuch easier, anyway; I guess you could argue that advances in training, nutrition, and gear make marathon running more comfortable now than ever before.) But I think we can all agree that running 26.2 miles — that telling someone at a cocktail party, “I run marathons” — doesn’t impress people quite the way it did, say, a few decades ago.
Why? Because marathon runners used to be a fringe group. Strange. Obsessive. Weird. And rare, like an exotic species that’s nearing extinction because its members are always too hungry and exhausted to mate. Today, everyone including your Aunt-Eunice-with-the-bad-hip has a finisher’s medal from some marathon or another.
Today, in short, running a marathon is only kind of a big deal. Not a BIG-big deal.
Now, before anyone comes out swinging, let me be clear: I’m not saying that this development is a bad thing. At all. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, either. It’s just… a thing. What really interests me is a related phenomenon, and one that I’ve never seen acknowledged: Mileage inflation.
“Mileage inflation” is a term I’ve coined to describe what’s been happening these past several years, as marathon participation has exploded, and those fringe-y, obsessive types have been forced to run crazier and crazier distances in order to retain their status as fringe-y, obsessive types.
Like the addicts they’ve long been compared to, the fringe-y, obsessive types need more and more mileage just to maintain equilibrium. So they run ultras: 50-K’s, 100-K’s, 24-hour runs, multiday events. It’s amazing, to a common marathoner like me. I can’t fathom running that far, for that long. (If you run long enough, is it possible for nipples to rub completely off?)
Of course, years ago most people couldn’t fathom running 26.2 miles, either. Which is exactly my point. Today, most people can fathom running 26.2 miles all too well. Today, you need to run, I dunno, 50 miles to attain that same level of unfathomable-ness, that same eye-pop and low whistle from a stranger.
See? Mileage inflation.
The inevitable question is, Where does it end? Your guess is as good as mine. I just read about a 1,000-mile race, which this guy hopes to win, in less than 16 days. One thousand miles. One-zero-zero-zero.
If it weren’t for the whole lack-of-atmosphere-and-gravity thing, I’m sure some folks would already be organizing a race to the moon and back. That would be about 478,ooo miles. Somehow I have a feeling that even if there were such a race, eventually you’d see it growing, then starting to sell out months early. Before you know it, you’d begin to hear grumbling from the fringe-y, obsessive types that their Lunar Ultra isn’t what it used to be, and looking to move on.
How far away is Mars?