Why Running Is Stupid: Proof that penguins are faster than sock monkeys.

English: Painting of Pheidippides.

In 490 BC, an important battle raged across the fields of Marathon in Greece between the Greeks and their would-be Persian conquerors, headed ultimately for the city of Athens. According to legend, as the Persians mounted the attack, the Greek army dispatched a runner, most often referred to as Pheidippides, to Sparta to get some much needed help. The run was a breezy 140 miles and the superstar completed it in about 36 hours. When he was told by the Spartans that they would send help, but could not possibly do so until the appropriate phase of the moon, Pheidippides turned around, Forrest Gump style, and ran the 140 miles back to Marathon to take up arms alongside his fellows.

When the Greeks at Marathon improbably won the battle, even without the aid of the Spartan army, the next concern was to deliver the exciting news to Athens to provide a confidence boost to the city along with a warning that the Persians would soon be coming their way. Since Pheidippides had already so successfully run 280 miles and survived a bloody battle, it seems only natural that he would be called upon again to run the message of victory the measly 25 miles to Athens. Shockingly, he collapsed, dead, as soon as he delivered the message.

Pheidippides runs into the assembly, puts his hands on his knees, spitting up a little blood as he tries to gather his breath, and exclaims: “Something in Greek!” Like most of you, I don’t speak Greek, but I’m pretty sure he said something like this: “Wheez…cough…cough…Give me a minute… gag…wheez…wow that was a stupid long way to run…cough…maybe someone should invent the telephone…wheez…gasp…or the telegraph…or smoke signals? Maybe we could get some smoke signals? That might work. ‘Cuz I gotta tell you, I can’t really feel my legs…gasp…wheez…maybe some Gatorade or water or something? …cough…Is it getting dark in here?…gag…oh, and we won…gasp….”

Obviously there are a few things we could learn from the tragic tale of poor Pheidippides. First, if you plan to run a marathon, it may not be in your best interest to run a 280 mile training run first, and you should probably consider not heading into it straight from battle which, likely, is also quite strenuous. Second, the Greek language is surprisingly efficient. And third, running is stupid.

It’s this third point I wish to expand upon, but let me first say, if you are a runner, and you read past the title and you’ve held on this long, thank you. I do not think you are stupid. I have the utmost respect for you and all those elite athletes out there who work so hard to achieve their goals. Running may be a great source of joy for you and I applaud your determination. I do, however, stick to my assertion that running is stupid. Because it is.

Now, if you read this blog regularly you may recall that I have two sons, the oldest of whom is seven. What I’m not sure that I’ve mentioned is how amazingly bright my seven-year-old is and like a lot of bright seven-year-olds, E is a voracious reader. So, yes, he reads all the great classics of children’s literature (he’s working his way through Madeleine L’Engle right now), but he’s also just as likely to read nonfiction works, particularly those dealing with science and invention. It doesn’t end there, though, because he reads everything that he finds that can possibly be read.

Like fliers. He picks up every single one he sees, without fail, and reads it word for word. So if you are running for political office, raising money for cancer research, or selling gym equipment, you should know that your advertisements are mostly falling into the hands of bright seven-year-olds, which I’m guessing are not within your primary demographic.

So a couple of weeks ago, we’re walking through the lobby of the local YMCA after swimming lessons, and E, predictably, can’t resist a stack of bright orange fliers that are advertising something called the Monster Dash, a costumed 5 K/1K fun run/walk to raise money for our local Food Share program. E looks it over and says, “Hey Mom, I want to do this.” I, lugging the bags full of wet towels and swimsuits, pulling on the hand of my uncooperative 5-year-old, trying to get out of the lobby so that we can make the mad run back home to grab dinner, finish homework, take showers, and get to bed at a reasonable hour, say, without thinking it through, “What’s that? For Food Share? Sure. That sounds fun.” He, of course, takes me at my word.

Trouble is, I don’t run. It hurts my joints. I don’t enjoy it. And so I think it’s stupid. That said, I am a fairly active person, and I’m in pretty good shape. I even enjoy the occasional challenge of a race type event, have completed a sprint triathlon (didn’t do the full because it required too much running), and if I could find a biathlon that included swimming and cycling, without the running, I’d be all over it. On top of this, I am currently about half way through the P90X fitness program, so a little 5 K should be easy, or at least doable. Probably.

Last Saturday we all got up nice and early, pulled on our Halloween costumes and headed for the race. My sons, a shark and a ninja, both successfully ran the 1 K kids’ run. Then it was my turn. Dressed as a sock monkey, I left the boys and my husband (a banana), and headed to the start line to meet up with my running partner for the day, an 8-year-old daughter of some family friends. This little girl is quite a runner and she wanted to give the 5 K a try so since I was committed anyway, I agreed to run with her and keep an eye on her.

And that’s how I found myself, running way faster than I ever run (because I don’t run), just trying to keep the gap small enough to maintain visual contact with an 8-year-old superstar penguin. I could say that I let her outrun me, but I won’t lie to you, my faithful blog audience.

The closest the sock monkey ever came to catching the penguin.

I may have had an embarrassing run, but I did at least win the funniest costume award so I guess I can be proud of that, although, I think the gingerbread man was robbed. Most importantly, though, I found out I can run, if I have to. Like, perhaps if I have an important message to deliver that will impact the survival of my nation or even the future spread of democracy throughout the world, or if my son picks up a flier advertising a fun run for a good cause.

Turns out the gingerbread man wasn’t that hard to catch after all. Maybe that’s why he didn’t win the funniest costume award?
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