It’s not enough to run a hard, clean race anymore.
The burning in the lungs, in the legs, no longer cuts it.
It’s not enough to cross the line, knowing you left everything behind on the course.
I’m not just talking here about fast runners; I’m referring to everyone who decides, no matter what their pace, that they’re going to wake up, put on their shoes and run their chosen distance to the best of their ability.
It’s not enough anymore.
Races need to be entertaining now.
A 10 km, half-marathon, even a marathon doesn’t satisfy people any more. They want color runs (http://thecolorrun.com/), where they are coated in a special dust over the course of the run and end up looking like human tie-dye shirts.
Of course a color run is pretty tame compared to Tough Mudders (http://toughmudder.com/). Tough Mudders are for people who believe that pure races aren’t, well, tough enough.
They willingly pay to run a course that combines military basic training with sheer stupidity, such as fire and electrical obstacles.
Don’t take my word for it. Right on the website, the company declares “Marathons are boring. And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley.
“At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind. Our obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test you in every way and are meant only for truly exceptional all-around people, not for people who have enough time and money to train their knees to run 26 miles.”
Really: “Truly exceptional all-around people.”
We look forward to seeing those truly exceptional all-around people run a 2:03 marathon. Or a 59 minute half-marathon.
Those same, truly exceptional all-around people routinely expose themselves to all manner of injuries
running participating in Tough Mudders. Broken bones, lacerations, heat dehydration and more have all been well documented.
This trend doesn’t just extend to racing.
Hell, just running needs to be entertaining now.
No longer is it enough to hear the sound of your breathing, the soft pad of your foot-falls. One of the most popular downloads currently? An application that simulates zombies chasing you while you run.
Seriously, you want to feel your guts pulled out – and not by zombies? Run some hard repeats. I suggest 400 metres. They’re fast and hard enough to make you wish a zombie would devour your brains and end your misery.
I would suggest the precursor of all this is the rock and roll run series (http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/). Personally, I’m not big on having bands barrage my ears when I’m trying to concentrate and stay locked into my pace. Obviously, though, there’s a large appetite for that sort of thing.
It’s sad, really.
I think of all the great literature running has inspired, the motivating essays, the affirmation of what a meditative, personal endeavor running is and how it moves us and changes our lives.
Here’s Benjamin Cheever writing about a Sergeant who began running while he served in Iran. “One of the appeals of running is it’s the one place I can be alone over here,” Sergeant First Class Gene D. Worthy told Cheever. “Alone with my thoughts, reflect on my day….”
What runner doesn’t understand that?
Running is exercise, a form of meditation, a way to test and measure ourselves. If it’s about noise, then that’s a cheering crowd as you cross the line.
Are you a Tough Mudder? If you laid it out on the line, assuredly.
And if you don’t think that’s enough, then you obviously didn’t push yourself hard enough.
Running is pure, beautiful, the silence of your feet on pine needles on a forest trail, your hard breath as you crest a sharp hill.
Your motion in time and space. Your thoughts.
It’s simple. Quiet.