I just got my annual email tickler from the Bank of America Chicago Marathon™ reminding me that registration is now open and that I only have 4 or perhaps 5 months before the 45,000 spots for runners will be closed. While I appreciate advance notice for a marathon that is not going to be run until October, the whole get-it-while-its-hot attitude toward marathon registration is a bit irksome if you are not one of those people who is inclined to plan their life eight months into the future. I am not one of those people, and my past is littered with the detritus of unfulfilled commitments to marathons. While I harbored good intentions, life waylaid me several times on the cusp of my start time with an assortment of obstacles — root canals, strep throat, injuries, psychic trauma — so now I squelch any inclination I have to fill up my calendar with races and marathons and adventure runs, knowing that I will inevitably miss a number of them despite my best intentions. Instead, I now prefer to commit to one marathon at a time, and decide what I’m going to run next after dragging my aching feet across the finish line in front of me.
The great thing about running marathons these days is that you really don’t need to book them eight months in advance – if you simply do the electronic equivalent of shaking a stick you will be assaulted with a shocking variety of running options. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there are now so many marathons being run that I have never heard of many of them. While I’d always known about the stalwarts — the Boston Marathon™, The San Francisco Marathon™, the Philadelphia Marathon™ – and could guess the names of others by simply sticking the name of a given city in front of the word “marathon,” the world is now populated with newly created gems such as the Michelob Ultra El Paso Marathon™, the Dicks Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon™, and the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon™.
Brand name corporate sponsorship of marathons comes as no surprise, of course, but I find myself preferring races that have no overt affiliation with corporations. If I’m not getting paid to run the race, why should I want to compete in something that has no rhyme, no whimsy, no sense of humor? If I have to go corporate, then I demand something like the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon™, where I can forget about the pain briefly as a Van Halen cover band pounds out Jump at mile 11 and the Gatorade lady slips me a smile with my 3-oz Dixie cup and a packet of Gu.
What I’m really a fan of, though, are the quirky marathons with even quirkier names — the Twisted Ankle Trail Marathon™, the Wild Wild West Marathon™, the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon™, the Lost Dutchman Marathon™, Humpy’s Classic™, and the ever-popular (but not very populated) Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon™. Running is such an individual pursuit, involving the slim and the stout, the adolescent and the senescent, the energetic and the just-plain-pooped, that slapping a humorous name on what is a rather undignified pursuit seems appropriate. While the marathon may have its distant origins in myth and legend, few of the folks hobbling along at mile 13 could tell you that the marathon originated to honor a Greek messenger who perished after running to Athens to bring news of a Greek victory in 490 B.C. And even fewer could tell you that the original marathon distance of 24 miles was lengthened to 26.2 miles at the 1908 London Olympics so that the race would end in front of the royal family’s box. They would instead tell you that they are running to raise money for cancer, or for self-empowerment, or because a friend conned them into it, or to get over the death of a pet, or because they’re trying to lose weight, or because it was on their list of 100 things to do before they died. There are as many reasons to run as the throng of 45,000 that will charge around Lake Shore Drive this October can voice, all individual, all important, all ultimately deserving of a name that dispenses with pretense.
We run to honor Pheidippides, we throw in a few extra miles for the Queen, and sometimes we even go an extra mile by accident — as did those fortunate enough to run the 2005 Lakeshore Marathon™, where race planners accidentally added an extra mile to the course between miles 25.2 and 26.2 (officially making it the longest last mile ever run). Such is the marathon. Arbitrary, strange, devilishly appealing, more related to Monty Python than to Monte Carlo. Such an event is clearly deserving of all the silly names™ a man can devise.