I'm Not Running a Marathon Because #YOLO


A few months ago, I posted on my Facebook wall that I was considering running a marathon and asked for advice. I'd started training low-key in October for no particular reason. I've been a runner since I was eleven or twelve, and one day after going for a slightly longer run than normal, my fiancé Lucas and I talked about how cool it would be if I ran a marathon, so I decided I'd give it a try.

Then one day, again for no particular reason, I researched the health effects of running a marathon. I expected to find that it was positive, at least mildly. Instead what I found were articles upon articles pooh-poohing marathons as unhealthy wastes of time. Now as much as I appreciate science writers for spreading important findings, I also know they frequently get things wrong. So I searched Google Scholar, and I found roughly the same thing. I'd decided to do the marathon for no particular reason except that it would be an achievable accomplishment with presumably only positive effects for my health. Learning the latter was false made me withdraw.

That was until I thought about my particular profile. I'm 26, a healthy weight, eat a lot of whole foods and plants, and have been running for a decade and a half. I've only ever had one related injury, which was a common stress fracture in my foot. I'm familiar enough with science to know that the average effect does not tell you everything. Sometimes you need to look at subgroups, and I had to be in the best subgroup. I had a check up with my doctor, and I laid out my reasoning. It's a go, she said. The safety of marathon running was dependent on the particular profile. I went back to training. 

As time went on, I started encountering people with similar profiles to me—young, healthy runners—who suffered serious joint or other injuries from running. So I thought about it again. I'd been most scared of some serious illness or condition, but I hadn't thought of just how obviously common joint or other injuries seem to be from marathons and other extreme athletic events. If I had, I'd written it off. A knee injury would pass, and I'd survive. Why worry?

Well, I've decided it's worth worrying (and sat with the decision long enough now to think it's the right one). Why? In short, #YOLO. (That stands for "You only live once" for those who don't use the Internet or have friends who do.) Normally, #YOLO means you should take every opportunity life throws at you. After all, we only have one life to take the opportunity.

#YOLO makes sense for many things. #YOLO makes sense as a reminder not to avoid things because of taboos or irrational fears. I'd put traveling to most parts of the world or trying a drug like ayahuasca as good cases of #YOLO.

The most precious opportunity we have in life, though, is to live it. It's true that I only have one life in which to run a marathon—but I also only have one life in which to run moderate distances on a regular basis. The latter may not seem as exciting as the former, but it's far more important. So today I'm saying no to a thrill because #YOLO.

Comments

  1. I find the marathon distance to be arbitrary and overrated. Legend has it that Pheidippides ran 25 miles to deliver the message of a Greek victory in the Battle of Marathon, and then promptly dropped dead. We "celebrate" his feat by running a similar distance, while hoping not to also drop dead in the process.

    That said, I did run one full marathon five years ago. The (self-designed) training for it was brutal, even harder than the race itself. I'm not sorry I did it, but nor am I eager to repeat the experience. The half-marathon distance is a preferable challenge for me.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah I did not know that story until recently and was bemused to learn that the original marathoner died from it. I've been thinking of doing a half, since it's a distance I've nearly gotten to.

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