Wednesday, May 13, 2009

STI: Armchair marathon

May 10, 2009

Armchair marathon

Everyone's a runner today. It's time I stood up for the sedentary lifestyle. Wait... I think I'll sit this one out

By Ignatius Low 


Wolfing down noodles with my portly friends the other week at Sunshine Plaza, we indulged in one of our favourite pastimes: Talking behind people's backs.


The subject in question was C, a member of our pack who is looking positively waif-like because he has been gobbling supplements instead of sausages recently, and going to the gym.


'Oh my goodness, did you see the pictures of him at B and G's party last weekend? So skinny, I almost couldn't recognise him,' said one friend.


Another quipped: 'Do you know he signed up for the marathon? Crazy, right?'


'What is so crazy about that,' asked T, another friend of ours, suddenly turning serious. 'Completing a marathon is a worthy achievement.'


'I also want to do it one day,' he declared.


There was stunned silence around the table for a second as the guys inspected his 100kg frame, still attacking the noodles and fried wontons.


'Okay, half-marathon,' T said quickly, correctly anticipating an onslaught of bitchy remarks.


But it was too late.


'You?!' one of the guys exclaimed. 'A marathon takes two hours to complete, not two days, you know!'


Another teased: 'Bring some money, okay, so you can take a taxi to McDonald's when you get hungry.'


Inside me, something snapped. Stop the madness, I wanted to scream.


Seriously, I don't know what's become of our people.


I'm a concerned citizen and if people are so ignorant, I think I want to teach them.


You see, marathons, triathlons and the like were once thought of as extreme activities that only a niche crowd engaged in.


But endurance events are now alarmingly entering the common social consciousness.


There are now at least six major endurance races on the calendar in Singapore every year, involving running, swimming and/or cycling over unfathomably long distances.


Some are beyond extreme. This month's Adidas Sundown Marathon will see hundreds of people attempt an 84km 'ultramarathon' - twice the distance of the standard marathon.


Then there are small groups like Audax Randonneurs Singapore, whose members cycle as much as 600km at one go.


When Standard Chartered Bank introduced the marathon to Singapore in 2000, about 2,000 runners took part. Last year, 13,000 did.


As a result, everyone out there probably knows someone who has run a marathon or participated in an Iron Man race, or is, at least, preparing to.


How did these sports gain such wide acceptance, so much so that ordinary people like you and me think it's okay to sign up and give it a go, to try it and see?


Are hardcore marathoners, intoxicated with the excesses of their extreme lifestyles, recruiting unsuspecting citizens and trying to convert them?


Or is the problem starting in the physical education lessons conducted in our schools? Now, there's something which should concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation of marathoners?


To be fair, supporters of extreme endurance races have come up with long lists of reasons why engaging in these sports is good for both the body and the soul.


But I beg to differ.


God obviously did not make our bodies to withstand 42km of running, 100km of cycling or 2km of swimming in the sea - sometimes even all at the same time.


It's downright unnatural, I say. The human body has limits.


Just a week ago, doctors were quoted in this newspaper saying that the human body is not meant to run marathons. One said that while a small percentage of people will have no problems running distances longer than a marathon, most people are unable to do long-distance running without breaking down.


In fact, the risk of heart attack increases by a factor of seven while a person is running. Cardiac muscle damage and blood clots are other risks associated with endurance running.


Recent statistics from heart researchers in Minneapolis in the United States say that there are four to eight deaths in every million marathon participants.


This happens here in Singapore too, and some of the victims look perfectly fit and healthy, so isn't the danger even greater for the rest of us who are not so well-conditioned physically?


Experts say the ordinary person needs eight months to a year to train for a marathon. I'm just not sure how many people are actually doing that before lining up at the starting line.


To compound the problem, there is all this peer pressure to take part.


Companies have been known to encourage participation in the name of healthy lifestyles, giving their staff days off as an incentive.


There are glitzy ads on TV egging people on, often mounted by large corporations who seem only interested in furthering their branding efforts.


My question is: Are all these organisations acting responsibly?


As a result, terms such as 'marathon', 'carbo-loading' and 'hitting the wall' are being used positively now, when they really should be neutral at best.


It has also become trendy, admirable even, to boast about completing these races.


At business lunches, people are routinely introduced as marathon runners as a post-script to their official designations, as if it were an MBA or a qualification that should automatically impress.


At more casual gatherings, people use it to climb the social ladder. Are husbands who run marathons supposed to be beter than those who don't?


Finally, there is this incredible smugness that marathon runners give off.


Wearing singlets that scream 'I completed 42km', exposing their bodies to whoever might care to look? Well, I never!


What's next? Marathon weekend-long dance parties on Sentosa? Special gatherings at Hong Lim Park to show 'solidarity'?


So stop this madness, I say.


To be sure, we love marathoners and have absolutely nothing against them as human beings. But let's also not go overboard promoting extreme endurance events as a legitimate form of recreation.


There are, after all, many other ways a person can safely get that sense of achievement which comes with finishing a long race.


One could try to read a book every week for a year, for example, or watch an hour of Discovery Channel every day for a month. It's a lot more difficult than it sounds, and it's a lot more edifying too.


Let's stand up for the sedentary lifestyle, then, before changing social trends take it over and obliterate it.


And if you feel more comfortable doing that sitting down, then by all means, my dear brothers and sisters, please do.

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