Running A Marathon Is Not Inspiring

50,881 people.  That’s how many people finished yesterday’s 2014 NYC Marathon.  It’s the biggest marathon in the world, with so many runners hoping to run that most entries are based on a lottery.  You have to apply.

Imagine, we live in a world where there are tens of thousands of people applying to run 26.2 miles, distance that killed Pheidippides, the ancient Greek soldier who covered this distance as a messenger after battle. Considering that unfortunate beginning:


We’ve come to see even greater athletic challenges over time, but let’s face it: Running 26.2 miles has long stood as a benchmark human accomplishment. The time and energy spent training for race day is highly respectable, but to me it begs the question:

Is running a marathon inspiring?

Think about your own running, or about friends and family that have participated. If you’ve run a marathon, what inspired you to do so? If your friends or family have run, what inspired them to do so?  If you know someone that ran a marathon, did they inspire you?

Put that in your pensieve and think about it for a second. Siriusly, I’ll wait.


Let’s mull this over for a second.  Pause. think.  I know the uber-excited among you are ready to defend the honor of your running friends. It’s not them I want; it’s you. Put down the pom-poms to reflect for a moment.  I ask again:

Is running a marathon inspirational?

Impressive, aye, but inspirational?  I don’t think so.  Let’s respect the physical accomplishment of running 26.2 miles, but take it off the inspirational Holy Grail.  If you want some inspirational long-distance travel, let’s discuss Ghandi’s 240-mile Salt March.  Let’s discuss Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, 250k person March on Washington.

You don’t run the marathon then make an impact on the Ebola epidemic.  You don’t run the marathon then fight for gender equality.  You don’t run the marathon to fight for net neutrality.

Let me share with you some thoughts from Coach Stevo‘s post, Integrity in the New Year:

People who sign up for marathons rarely want to run a marathon. Marathons suck. They hurt and yet are so easy that anyone can sign up for one. I crossed the finish line of my first marathon with a 65 year old woman who had run another marathon the previous week. People don’t want to run a marathon, they want to be the kind of person who ran a marathon. And most people don’t want to have a six pack, they want to be the kind of person who they think has a six pack.

When we exercise, we create either pain or pleasure, and I’d venture that the majority of the marathon community is experiencing the former, not that latter.  After all, if we celebrate the soldier who died on his Marathon, we should suffer like that, too.  What was his name again?

No, for each and every genuine, authentic, “I come alive when I run,” there are quite many more who aren’t having any fun.  Let’s face it, this could easily be a picture from the weekend:


The cult(ure) of marathon running strikes me as disconnected from the idea of self-realization.  It’s those 26.2 miles standing in the way. It’s the idea that we need to suffer or strain to get somewhere, that the emotional journey requires a physical one.

I appreciate that for many, success begets success.  Addressing the physical challenges of marathon preparation and completion may be the impetus that we need to change: To motivate personal development or professional accomplishment.

If celebrating the physical feats of your friends feet let’s us aspire to change the world, then by all means, run on.  However, I believe there’s a world where we can recognize physical fitness, , inspiration, and human achievement as related but distinctly different.

You don’t need to run a marathon to be inspired, and you don’t need to be inspired to run a marathon.  Running for personal pleasure is great, but running a marathon is not inspiring.  It’s personal.  Who are you on the other 364 days of the year?  Who do you inspire?  Who do you aspire to be?  Will we be better for it?

There are 364 days until the next New York City Marathon, and I’m more than glad to support anyone who want to be involved with it.  I’ll also guide us to the bigger picture, to the reality that what we do every day is more important than what we do on one day.  Let’s remember this:


6 Replies to “Running A Marathon Is Not Inspiring”

  1. Harold, come on. You do realize that people train for months and months to run a marathon. Who are you the other 364 days a year? Well, a lot of those days you are training toward a goal and it takes discipline. It might not be a goal you’re personally interested in, but I don’t know why you’re so down on people being inspired by marathoners. What about your friends who raise thousands of dollars along the way for charity? Who keep the people in need of those charities in their thoughts while they’re running for months and months? What’s so wrong with someone being inspired by the determination, focus and strength exhibited by another person who is testing their physical limits to achieve a personal goal? Should we not be inspired by any athletes and their ability to push themselves? The NYC marathon is an amazing event not for just the race that is run by 50,000 people, but for the amazing connection between those runners and the spectators and the volunteers as hundreds of thousands of people cheer for 26 miles across the city motivating people to complete their goal. I think it’s rather unfortunate you can’t take inspiration within that kind of mass celebration of togetherness or that you dismiss it as a one day event in someone’s life. You DO need to be inspired to run a marathon.

      1. Harry,

        The argument’s force seems to be that marathons aren’t worth much because they aren’t inspiring, but rather are oftentimes nothing more than a contrived, dogged effort to overcome something the marathoner actually hates. If it was inspiring, on the other hand, then there’d be no need (or at least less need) to push back on marathoning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: