/1/ Marathoning is a mass event. Tens of thousands of participants – ranging from rank amateurs to elite professionals – compete in the same event. Many of the participants are in their 30s or 40s or above. Many are middle-class.
/2/ Marathoning is an urban event. The courses wind past city landmarks and urban peripheries. Cities use their marathons as a means of attracting foreign and domestic tourists. The newly founded Jakarta Marathon, for example, leads north from Central Jakarta; the northern part of Jakarta has been much neglected, despite its many historical sites, in preference to the trendy, cooler, south.
/3/ Marathoning has largely been a male sport. Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon in 1967. The first women’s marathon in the Olympics was held at the Los Angeles games in 1984. In 1980 there were only 11% of women competing in marathons in the US, by 2012, women were approximately 42% of the competitors.
/4/ Marathoning is highly organised and structured. The major marathons are also sponsored by big-name, global companies: TCS, ING, Virgin Money etc. Marathons, as such, are vehicles for promoting the interests of big corporate players. Maybe for some it is a conservative, boring, sedate sport, placing too much emphasis on the individual, rather than having any sense of team-work or play.
/5/ Marathoning is an exact science or devoid of a sense of play and use of tactics. The body behaves capriciously; the weather, too: these are the two main factors that scupper efforts at setting a personal best time. Runners use others to pace oneself; they gamble when to make their move and when to conserve energy.
/6/ The rise in contemporary marathoning is evidence of the rise and prominence of the amateur. Someone who finishes a marathon in 5hours can still proudly state that they have finished a marathon. Marathons are open to mass participants allowing for amateurs to be in the near presence of professionals. The cult of the marathon facilitates global tourism for marathons who travel to different countries to participate in marathons. And while participating in these events, runners feel themselves to be legitimate, bone fide athletes.
/7/ Marathoning is a totalising sports activity. Marathoners condition their bodies to suit the rigours of running long distances. This involves a broad array of complementary exercises and cross-training. Runners swim, cycle, do yoga and pilates and other sports in order to strengthen their bodies for running. Runners also fastidiously manage their diet. Marathon preparation takes over one’s life: training schedules have to be followed precisely for three-five months. Injuries happen, though, at any time, laying all one’s effort and investment to waste.
/8/ Marathons aren’t that far. Marathons – the 42km kind – are no longer difficult nor far enough. Marathoners are running longer distances, ultra-marathons to explore the possibilities of running. Marathon des Sables, through the Moroccan desert, is one such example. But if you settle for doing a marathon, you can always make it more interesting by wearing a costume.
/9/ Marathons are often linked to philanthropy; social activism. Running a marathon needs to be given a purpose; a greater meaning beyond the mere act of running the 42kms. Perhaps this is a result of the guilt runners feel for spending so much time on their quixotic, often lonely, ‘hobby’.
/10/ Marathoning has an ambivalent relationship with the idea of ‘play’. Marathoning allows for little variation, expression, complication. The game of marathoning is running in one direction – forwards – and not looking back. There are few rules that can be subject to dubious decision making. Marathoning is an unbearably simplified sport. It is reduced to the mathematics of time and distance. But, it is never just that. It is inherently a corporeal and textured, movement towards pain and exultation.