G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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I live almost exactly in the solar plexus of the United States. Things arrive late here. We’re still playing the unremixed version of Gotye on the radio, and people still get married and go to church and stuff. Also, marathon decals are making their appearance. This indicates, to me at least, that the marathon craze has finally penetrating the Heartland.
Here’s the website Stuff White People Like which lists marathons at #27 on its eponymous list:
In life, there are certain milestones of physical activity that can define you. A sub 5 second 40 yard dash, a 40 inch vertical leap and so forth. To a white person, the absolute pinnacle of fitness is to run a marathon. Not to win, just to run.
White people will train for months, telling everyone who will listen about how they get up early in the morning, they run when it rains, how it makes them feels so great and gives them energy.
The ability to finish a marathon signals conscientiousness. And marathon stickers – the car decals with 26.2 or 13.1 (losers) on them are symbols of such conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is intertwined chicken-and-egg style with IQ, but posting a quantitative number on your vehicle is uncouth. Putting up a the qualitative decal indicating this milestone is something different. The marathon hits on all of these parameters to create one giant vat of status stew. Hard work, intelligence, economic freedom, and freedom in the spiritual or leisurely sense are all communicated by the singular act of running a lot of miles all in a row.
It’s hard to communicate to people that you’ve run a marathon – that you’ve done something that requires an ascetic devotion, a work ethic, a sacrifice that is an homage to a single historical act that was the opposite of fun. As legend has it, an Athenian soldier, Phiedippides, ran a distance of about 25 miles between Marathon and Athens to tell Athenians that the army had defeated the Persians. He exclaimed victory with a term that has inspired the “Nike” brand (it’s slogan “Just Do It” is conscientiousness), and reportedly died. But the modern 26.2 number stuck for logistical reasons having to do with the Olympics and the location of the British Royal Family during the 1908 Olympic Games. Some invisible hand capitalized on this historical event, and, of course, the Olympic celebration of it, in typical fashion. You take something that is difficult and time-consuming, give out some t-shirts, get some sponsors, charge a fee, give a carrot in the form of social status, get people talking about their marathoning at dinner parties and such, and infuse some talk about health benefits and lifestyle values, and voila.
The marathon indicates a sticktoitiveness that most people don’t have, for a variety of reasons. But you can’t do like Paul Ryan and just talk about your marathon running as if people care. Alright, you can talk about it, but then you’ll be that guy, and you don’t want to be that guy. Some who really want to advertise their conscientiousness – and, importantly, their freedom, economic or otherwise – slap the decals on their Priuses or, if they have young children, their Honda Odysseys. The marathon is only worth it if people know you did it.
There’s something else about marathons that have caused SWPLs to embrace them. They’re co-ed. Men and women alike participate in marathons. Running a 6 hour marathon is just as impressive (I guess) as running a 4 hour marathon. As SWPL argues – and quite correctly, I believe – the importance of the marathon is the fact that the person slugged through the thing. So it fits the liberal ethos (which your more socialistic-minded Christians might also embrace) that opposes competition. And it isn’t inherently masculine, despite the physical exertion and despite the fact that a man was chosen to make the original fun run. It’s about the only physical endeavor that is somewhat impressive and that women can pretty much compete with men on, qualitatively. To say it another way – the concept of the marathon is still so exclusive that everyone who runs a marathon is held in the same regard. The goal is the important part of the marathon, and it is both inclusive and exclusive. Anyone of any race or either gender can do it. We can all run. But few will actually do it. It is safe for those of the SWPL mindset.