The Marathon as Fad Diet

Once, a few summers ago, I went zip lining underground, in an old slate mine, in North Wales. It was pretty great, a thoroughly unique experience that challenged my fear of open heights, took me to a place I never guessed I’d see, and helped me make a memory with my older son.

Having said all that, I am not, now, an underground zip liner.

And this, I think, is the problem with epic events. We all want (ok not all of us) to find that life-changing experience that shifts our perspective in the right way and puts us on the path to long term happiness and contentment, but this, to me, is magic bullet thinking, the idea that one thing can and will change us, like a marathon or running with the bulls.

The truth, I’m afraid, is much more boring, and way, way more time consuming.

Similarly, you can eat nothing but bee pollen for a month. You can fast on days that start with a T. You can cut out all carbs. You can eat vegan during the week and meat on weekends. You may get something you want from doing one of these things, weight loss, or muscle tone, or mental clarity, or just a time out to re-examine your relationship with food. None of those magic bullets is going to make you healthy on its own.

An event isn’t a lifestyle, and if my lifestyle isn’t healthy, every day, month after month, year on year, for decades, then I’m not healthy. Most people’s don’t change in a day. They change bit by imperceptible bit, over time.

The boring truth is that you have to keep moving. You don’t have to run a marathon. You just have to find that way that you can enjoy moving your body all the time, because all-the-time is the most important quality of the movement.

We can eat all the crazy shit we want, but if we can’t eat a reasonable diet consistently, we’re not going to get the settled, solid, healthy body we want. That’s not about weight, which is a shitty way to measure health. That’s about stability in your body, a stable platform to move from.

I get it, it’s enormously tempting to take on that thing that’s going to shake up your routine. I do it, too. But the shake up on its own, isn’t the answer.

Lifestyle is boring. It’s incremental, and it’s hard, because it demands the kind of consistency none of us is particularly good at. I am enormously fortunate to genuinely enjoy athletic activity, running, riding, hiking, climbing, zip lining. Not everyone does. Or not everyone was raised and taught to.

I view exercise, or even just movement really, as hygiene. I have to brush my teeth. I have to move my body. We’d all be better off if we thought of it that way, rather than as some sort of overachiever’s hobby.

By all means, take on audacious challenges, but I’d suggest taking them on from a settled place, from the runway of a steady, healthy diet and a base of regular exercise.

4 thoughts on “The Marathon as Fad Diet

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  1. Well… many of us need a magic bullet. I’m not sure how ‘normal’ my feelings are because I suffer from OCD, but I’ve long tracked my need to derive my identity from my actions and activities: I’m a runner, I’m a writer, that sort of thing. I don’t believe that thinking is necessarily healthy or unhealthy, but for me it’s something I’ve tried to move away from. But if being a ‘runner’ helps the next person go running (like in Britney Runs a Marathon), then the tag is useful and necessary. Sometimes the activity and the identity are directly related to being a ‘better’ person. Two of mine are quitting drinking (I’m a nondrinker) and giving up the consumption of land animals (I’m a vegetarian, sort of). Both have dramatically changed my health. My OCD (which is mostly medicated these days) also causes me to write dissenting comments on blog posts. And yes, I realize that healthy Britney was still left with abominable mental health, but one step at a time.


    1. Jeff, you are always welcome to dissent. I appreciate it very much. I think we’re basically agreeing though. I’m not against the big thing, the bit of hope to cling onto. All I’m saying is, change requires change all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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