Why Running a Marathon is Just Like Sex

It’s only good if you want to do it

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By Pete Estabrooks

My brilliant niece Jessie called recently about advice on committing to a marathon. The simple story: she had a friend who wanted to run a marathon; said friend wanted a partner and the athletic, ambitious Jessie seemed a good choice.

As we spoke, I sensed Jess was feeling somewhat interested, but more obligated. Prior to commitment, doing due diligence, Jessie sought out my guidance by asking specific questions. In how short a time could she prepare for the event? What was the least amount of running that would maximize performance and at the same time minimize the risk of injury? Did I think it was a good idea?

After hearing the first two questions I was easily able to answer the last one this way: “No, it’s a bad idea.”

As I struggled trying to find an analogy, I was able to get this point across. If you have to make time to run a marathon, it is not a good time to run a marathon.

Popular culture has replaced truth with mythology and removed the magic from the marathon story. The myth — anyone can run a marathon — is that, a myth. Life isn’t fair. Hard work, time, serious training, as well as the right genetics all play a role.

With all that on your side, your chances to complete a marathon are good, but not guaranteed. The magic is (if you’ve run a marathon you know this) people will sign up for a second, third, fourth or 50th marathon. A marathon hurts. It doesn’t matter if you run 2 hours 10 minutes or 5 hours 50 minutes. It hurts.

Is there an amazing sense of accomplishment, a sense of wonder and achievement in finishing a marathon?

Yes. Does it hurt? Absolutely. It often seems like so many people have run a marathon that we forget it is a statistically rare event. Not everyone can, not everyone should and not everyone needs to run a marathon. It’s a cool gig if you choose to, a bad deal if you are choosing to do it for someone else.

Here’s why. The authentic marathon magic is two-fold. First, it is a terrific feat and force of nature to run 42.2K. It feels special because it is special. Second, after two days, you forget it ever hurt at all and you begin to tell your friends, “That was so cool, you should do that.”

Maybe you even propose, “We should do that.” Maybe you even lean on them a little, just a little, because you think the magic would be good for them.

Regardless of what you think the experience would add to their lives, this is not your choice. A marathon is a decision everyone has the right to arrive at by him or herself. Maybe you should shut up.

I finally figured out the analogy (too late to tell Jessie) that cut to the heart of the matter. Running a marathon is like having sex.

Running is fun; sex is fun. Running is often great; sex often also great. Practiced properly running can create an amazing human experience; practiced properly, sex can also be a mind-blowing human experience.

Training to run a marathon gives you a regular schedule and provides a long-term goal. Training for sex is an easier schedule to adhere to, provides a short-term “wow, was that good for you?” physical goal and a long term “wow, was that good for us?” emotional goal.

Running a marathon with a partner is fun, as is occasionally running one on your own. Sex? … You get the drift.

Most importantly, neither running a marathon nor having sex is ever something you should consider because someone else thinks it’s a good idea. This is your choice, yours alone and when the time is right, you’ll know.

Written for Impact Magazines March/April 2016 Issue