The other night, I got a text from a friend and fellow runner who mentioned that he was thinking of running his first ultra this year. He’s run many marathons over the years, but decided maybe he’s ready to try a race that’s just a bit longer. As a recent convert to the world of ultrarunning myself, I immediately voiced my enthusiastic support for the idea.
As our conversation continued, I made some comment along the lines of “it’s fun to do something that so few people are willing to attempt” and he informed me that the Wall Street Journal reported that in 2014, there were just over 550,000 marathon finishers in our country. That sounds like a large number, until you compare it to the general population and realize that it equates to less than one tenth of one percent of our population. I’ve heard similar statistics before, and it always strikes me as unbelievable.
I know that most people don’t run marathons, but I still feel like a lot do. I can name an endless number of personal friends and acquaintances who have finished at least one marathon. There were six girls on my collegiate gymnastics team my senior year – 5 of us have run marathons. Now I know that you could argue that we were already athletes, so it’s not a huge leap to think that we might transition to a new sport after college. That’s not the only place where I cross paths with runners, however. I teach at a small independent school. There might be 40 of us total on staff at the school. Two of my fellow teachers have completed marathons before. That makes three of us out of 40, and while you can argue that athletes of any type are more predisposed to take up running, I don’t think you could automatically say the same of teachers.
I’ve been running these distances for more than ten years now, and as I’ve gradually built up my mileage base, my life as a runner has just come to feel completely normal to me. Sure, not everyone runs marathons, but many people do at least one eventually. Right? I fear that I often sound cocky to those who don’t know me well. A typical exchange on a Monday might go like this:
Random colleague: “How was your weekend?”
Me: “Great! I spent a lot of time outside.”
Colleague: “Doing what?”
Me: “I went for a run and the kids had baseball games.”
Colleague: “Did you run far?”
Me: “No, only for a few hours.”
Colleague: Stunned silence…
I never think about how people will react to my response until I see their faces and I piece it together. And then I realize that I do sound a bit crazy. But the thing is, when you train for up to 4-5 hours at a time, a 2-hour run really does feel short. And when you are out there, and pass hundreds of other people running on a Saturday morning, it seems like a pretty popular thing to do. It’s easy to convince yourself that this running this is pretty common, no big deal, because that’s what it is for you. And it’s not until you pick up the Wall Street Journal (or talk to a friend who has) that you realize that you’re part of a pretty select group of people.
And I have to admit – that makes me feel pretty damn good.