A Marathon Odyssey – Malcolm Anderson
Chapter 3 – A Movement
This book describes the changes that have taken place in marathon running over the past 110 years. I’m involved in this too, although I can’t time warp myself to run in the races of yesteryear. What I can do, is take you on my own journey as I live the experience of marathon running from the vantage point of someone who doesn’t know much about what he’s doing. This is a significant bite to chew – there’s a lot to cover in one book. I’m weaving the story of marathon running through the lens of someone – me – training for, travelling to, and running three marathons in a two-month period.
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The book is about movement – my own pathetic and ungainly movement as I crash along the running surfaces, and my other movements, bowel excluded, as I take myself to different parts of the world to find out more about marathons, and, as it turns out, myself.
The book is also about a social movement. We’re currently witnessing and experiencing a transformation. Despite the marathon distance – 42.2 kilometres, or 26.2 miles – being roughly the same over the past 110 years or so, running marathons these days is quite different from running them at any other point in history.
What is the transformation?
There are more people running marathons than ever before and the growth continues. The profile of these runners is changing as well. There are more marathon events than ever before, and the number of marathons continues to rise. Never before have we been able to run so many marathons in so many different places. It’s no longer a question of where can you run a marathon, it’s more a question of where can you not run a marathon, and those options are fewer and fewer each year.
There is an increasing amount of diversity in the type of marathon events being held. There is big money being spent, invested, donated, and committed to sponsorship for marathons, and that trend is increasing.
We know more about how to train for marathons than ever before. We know more about our bodies; what to do with them, what not to do with them and the consequences of both. We know more about how to minimise the risks involved in running long distances and the associated injuries that occur (all too easily). We run faster marathons now compared to the past, and we will likely get faster, but maybe not much faster.
There is more being written and discussed about marathon running than ever before. There is more technology being applied to marathon running than ever before, most of which is focused on making training and competing more effective, and easier for the marathon ‘runner’. The very word ‘competing’ is associated less and less with marathon running as the new social movement unfolds with increasing numbers and diverse runners. We talk today of completing a marathon, not competing in a marathon.
In short, the marathon running world of today is much different from ten or twenty years ago, significantly different from fifty years ago, and almost unrecognizable compared to how it looked a hundred years ago. What was once seen as an endurance event of epic proportions for only the superhuman of us all is now increasingly associated with the words ‘fun’ and ‘enjoyment’ by everyone, including grandmothers, runners with disabilities, elite runners, people who like to dress up in costumes, people who may drag a tire behind them, and people with nothing better to do on a Sunday.
With some obvious exceptions, running marathons is becoming mainstream – a social movement – it’s possible for almost anyone, like me for example, to run a marathon, especially if the right context is available and there is a commitment to a goal. It’s exciting and empowering, and lies at the very heart of what we are witnessing. What satisfies the soul is no longer necessarily material possessions. People are looking increasingly inward – just glance at the self-help bookshelves these days – and running a marathon is fulfilling on so many dimensions.
Yet, for all these changes, the distance remains the same. It’s still a long way.
Why then, are all these changes occurring? What compels us to run a marathon?
I wanted to answer these questions. I needed to read about marathon running. I needed to talk to people. I needed to experience it for myself. I’m as much a poster child for the social movement as anyone else, even though my running style – my form – can make a drunk, one-eyed, limping gorilla with a nervous twitch strutting along a fashion runway look elegant and graceful.
What you’re about to read, if you haven’t given up already, or tossed back into the shelves or recycling bin, is part training log, part travel log, and part information gathering and synthesizing. Like any journey, or any marathon run, I’m not sure how it will go exactly, how it will end – it’s a work in progress. I’ve set myself a goal and I’m writing about it. What you’ll read is as it happened over a three-month period.
I found out a lot about myself in this time, and my faith in people rose substantially. The transformation in marathon running, in fact, has contributed to my own transformation, and I’m better for it. Without getting teary-eyed about it all, I can’t imagine not running marathons. I’m hooked.
It’s one thing to experience the transformation; it’s another to write about it. Let’s hope it works.