One half of the human race
I remember my response when a friend asked whether I would be running the full marathon, or the half.
“Halfs are for girls”, I said.
I don’t really believe that, of course. The 21-kilometre half is probably my favourite distance: long enough to be challenging, short enough to run it fast. I mean, people die during full marathons, for crying out loud. The whole idea is a tribute to the poor sap who discovered “the wall” somewhere on the way to the Acropolis, and probably pissed his loincloth before falling dead before the City Fathers of Athens, covered in snot and dust. I could think of more dignified ways to go. And at every marathon, at about mile 20, I say to myself “this is stupid”, and resolve not to do another (I always sign up for the next one within the week). But I like to run half marathons, 10Ks and even 5Ks.
The difficulty is that I can’t run a half when a full marathon is going on. Then it’s not a challenging distance; it’s just half a race. I realize that this is a constitutional problem I have, related to my competitiveness and maybe an over-concern for what I want people to think of me. I can show up on half marathon day and run my heart out, but not if others are running the full deal. I can do a 5K roadrace, and I do plenty of ‘em, but not on the same day that others are running a 10. It’s sick, really, but there it is: All Or Nothing.
And I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, race planners are now preying on it, and frankly it’s getting to the point where I’m going to hurt myself. Last year, I signed up months in advance for a marathon at an undisclosed location in a foreign nation. Sure there was a half, and a 5K, and a mile fun run, but I was going to run the Big One. Then, a couple of months before Race Day, I got an email from the planners saying that they were trying something new: if you ran the one miler then the 5K on the Saturday, then the Marathon on the Sunday, you’d get a special medal and t-shirt for your trouble. Damn. So now I couldn’t fly all that way and “only” do the marathon. I needed to be the guy wearing the Triple Triumph Medal, as if anyone really cared.
Needless to say, I made all kinds of resolutions – I would take it easy on the Saturday races, just treat them as warmup jogs. That lasted through the mile fun run, which I did with my young son. But about 30 seconds before the start of the 5K, with everybody all bouncing around and looking all chippy and arrogant, I got my back up, and 20-something minutes later I’d turned in my fastest 5K ever and killed anything resembling a pre-race marathon “taper.” I spent much of the rest of the day with my feet elevated getting reacquainted with Ibuprofen and ice. The marathon started before dawn the next morning.
I finished that race in a decent time, but it led me to re-examine this bizarre part of my personality that is both intensely contrarian and competitive, two things that you’d think shouldn’t go together. I have some odd passions in my life: I collect things: Swiss watches, politically incorrect firearms (why, after all, should conservatives be the only ones armed in the imminent apocalypse?), occasionally inappropriate relationships with younger women, and old quirky vehicles. I once designed and built a show-winning custom motorcycle from scratch — it had a thoroughbred modern engine in a faux-antique body, and it tried to throw me off for four years before I finally sold it to someone up north who’s probably dead by now. And then there’s this running thing. This year I’m running five marathons, among a host of halves and 10ks; 18 races in all to beat the sixteen in 2010.
I tell myself that I do these things because people say I can’t, but the truth is, people really don’t care if I can or not. Sure, part of it is that, as middle age has dawned, I find myself less inclined to apologize for the things I am passionate about. I love to run, I love to turn the winding crown of an Omega Speedmaster Professional, and I love to shoot a Sig Sauer P226. I love the smell of old oil and gasoline when the valve cover comes off a 60-year-old engine. Yes, it’s probably carcinogenic. To hell with you. But there’s something deeper going on, something I can excuse but not understand.
So now it is the Disney Company that is determined to subject me to a mugging, and possibly murder. Not satisfied with turning my daughter into a zombie-like vassal of Every Disney Princess, they have now sensed in me my weakness and are methodically exploiting it. They are no better than the contemptible cigarette peddler or the neighbourhood crack dealer. I thought it’d be nice to take my family to Orlando this January while I ran the Disneyworld Marathon. But then I learned that the Marathon wasn’t all that was going on. They had a half marathon too, the day before. And (don’t get ahead of me, here) if you ran both (and paid $350 US for the pleasure), you would get a special medal in addition to the individual race medals. The medal is in the shape of Goofy’s head. But that’s not, I suspect, the reason they call it “The Goofy Challenge.” They call it that because you’d have to be a freaking idiot to do it. And if you’re a rich freaking idiot, so much the better, because Disney has mulcting fathers down to a creepy science.
But don’t worry, I treated the Saturday half marathon as a gentle warmup, then really poured it on for the full marathon on Sunday. Right.
Contrarian lives in a small town by a big city in North America, and before his death in the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon he had opinions on just about everything. In lieu of flowers, Contrarian asks that donations be made to his daughter’s 12-step Cinderella Complex recovery program.