"If God invented the marathon to keep people from doing anything more stupid, triathlon must have taken Him completely by surprise." - P. Z. Pearce, medical director, Hawaii Ironman World Championships
There is no doubt in my mind some activities should NOT be attempted by nearly sane human beings. Leaping from buildings, antennas, spans and earth (cliffs) with very small parachutes often approach the top of my short list. A one-in-sixty chance of dying will do things like that, at least for me. However, the point between the "do NOT do this," and the "what the heck, let's give it a whirl" sides of the continuum varies from person to person. Some folks are able, or choose, to ignore the line altogether.
After watching nearly two hundred ostensibly sane men ride their bicycles nearly the same amount of mileage - including descents which might even make a BASE jumper think twice - over a three-week period I would run in the course of a (good) year of training I asked myself, 'could I do that?' The risk-taking side of me almost instantly placed an event like the Tour de France on the "what the heck..." side.
Then I watched the video clip of all the nasty accidents. I repeated the clip where the television commentator's car took out two cyclists. Immediately after that, riding 2100 miles in three weeks moved closer to the "do NOT..."line. A little. Ah, but it's not unlike riding here on some weekends.
Which got me to thinking about running.
During the Tour de France's second rest day, the cable channel which televised the Tour (Versus) showed the Western States 100-Mile Trail Run. I wonder if they wanted to tell the viewer, '...if you think what you've been watching for the past two weeks is crazy, take a look at this...' Having read Timothy Noakes' discussions on ultramarathoning in his work 'Lore of Running,' as well as Dean Karnazes' 'Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner,' it doesn't seem nearly as out there as one would think. Yes, I'm still working to make it to another marathon starting line in a healthy state, but my wife and I have received an invitation from a family friend to visit them and do the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Running 26.2 miles is, yes, crazy. Actually, in my case, it's the training more than the race.
Once upon a time, the marathon was the be-all, end-all of running endurance events. Yes, there were "bunion derbies" and transcontinental foot races, but those were way to the right of the "do NOT..." line. Even Comrades - which, if you technically call anything over 26.2 miles an ultra, is misnamed, because at 56 miles it's more than double the standard marathon distance - was intended by the originator, one Vic Clapham, "to allow us to put our human physical frailties to the test," according to the event's web site.
So what were the organizers of the Western States Endurance Run, where a silver belt buckle is awarded to the men (and women!) who can complete the 100-mile course in less than 24 hours, or Leadville, which has been wryly described as "Western States with a sock in your mouth"...er, thinking? Is it a "sticks and stones" thing; someone decided to up the ante from the sublime into the ridiculous?
And it's not just endurance events which are crazy. I always thought that the 3,000 meter steeplechase event in track-and-field was destined for the same degree of ignominy and shame as baseball's designated-hitter rule. Why would we take the worst elements of distance running and sprinting and mash them together? Oh, and in order to make things "a little more fun," let's add solid barriers and water. Joy!
The world seems to be filled with people who, usually after a pitcher of beer apiece and a dry cocktail napkin, decide "let's put two dissimilar activities together, and see who signs up."
Hash kennels are the home of "A-plus-B-equals-something-fun," with events ranging from the "let's drink beer and run" of the typical "trail" to the "run while wearing a red dress in the name of charity" nature of the annual Red Dress Runs. How about running four quarter miles and drinking four 12-ounce cans of beer...preferably without throwing up? The sometimes-underground, sometimes around-the-corner nature of Beer Mile might be the thing. Of course, New Orleans (and now my fair city) have seen fit to let roller derby enthusiasts join in on the fun. Sometimes we need someone else to toss their chips into the pot.
If you're going to go "all in," to continue in the gambling parlance, you might as well have a good time doing it.
Who knows? We might even take God by surprise.