Where lies the line between fad and lifestyle? Who knows if, how, or when one switches from one to the other?
So what will history make of this whole running movement 100 years from now? 2116. Imagine the changes ahead. Will the act of running still hold forth in the 22nd century filling lives with purpose and pleasure? Or will it have gradually faded to join the myriad of other such booms gone bust?
“They did what? Ran how far? For what? That was Craaayzeeey!”
To be honest, I think that’s how it will go; the future won’t understand running at all. They will look at us like we look at those six-day indoor pedestrian events of the early 1900s, or the marathon dance craze of the 1920s, or streaking, that winsome 1970s craze of frolicking buck naked in public just to tweak the sensibilities of the stodgy old guard. All were fads that captured the nation’s imagination for a spell before petering out.
But running, you say, has been around for, what, 50 years now? So how could you lump it in with those other fads? It’s gone from its Baby Boomers progenitors and now onto the Millenials. A whole industry has grown up around it.
But we’ve already begun to see a crack in that facade. Running USA reported in their 2016 annual survey that there was a 7% decline in road race participation between 2013 and 2015. It seems the Millenials, especially, have shown a particular lack of interest in picking up the habit, exchanging the simplicity of running for the camaraderie of Cross Fit and other more socially engaged forms of exercise. That’s not unusual, one generation tends to rebel against what the previous generation embraced.
Besides that, pretty soon we will have implants everywhere, while gene therapy will alter God knows how much of life as we know it, wiping out diseases along with, perhaps, the need for cardio-vascular development altogether. How will the concept of “human” even be defined in the near term when we are already seeing science splicing together embryos that are part human, part animal? And you think the Toyota Prius is a hybrid?
When the nation was founded, life expectancy was only 36 years. Today it is up to 79. But with medical science making strides at the current rate, if continued we can expect another jump in longevity pretty soon – though whether the quality of that extended life will improve remains open to rational skepticism. Before long we will watch videos of the new world record in the 150 year-old 100 meter dash.
But it may be that the new breed will also lose some of its humanity in the exchange for life expectancy, becoming more like cyborgs with retinal displays, lab-grown organs and advanced metal frames. But that, along with a dangerously increasing population, might make the future more heartless, too, as competition for limited resources places strains on human empathy.
There is a good chance that the whole concept of running will completely escape the future. It may well be a zero-sum game, anyway. When the sport was in its infancy, mass participation was all but non-existent. Today, that trend has been turned on its head. At the same time, even with the fortunes of American middle and long distance running experiencing a welcomed renaissance as the number of training camps have sprouted across the country, that excellence has yet to translate into back-of-the-pack striving.
Not to sound too elitist, but you remove a certain amount of the essential nature of the thing when you extract competition from running, even if it’s only competition with yourself. Once we begin an endeavor based on increased effort and speed there is a natural inclination toward competition. Take that aspect away and — even our ancient ancestors, for whom running was primarily their means of persistence hunting, gave up running when farming came along. Just as people who were reared without benefit of shoes will readily give up the unshod life for one containing three stripes or a swoosh when given the choice, so, too, will runners tend toward less when left unchallenged.
And so it’s this: participation alone is not enough to drive effort. I see it all the time in my wife’s coaching business. Folks sign up, then go through the rigors to complete their marathon goal. But without the goal, the rigors are too much to maintain in the face of what, for most, is a hectic work and family life. And so they drift away and return to their former lifestyles, somewhat the better for the coaching and goal setting experience. But the lifestyle of basic health isn’t enough to drive the effort required to maintain it in and of itself. There has to be a certain passion for the thing or a goal to pull that effort and commitment out.
As Roman Senator Gracchus (played by Charles Laughton) said to Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) in the 1960 sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus, “Corupulence makes a man reasonable, pleasant and phlegmatic. Have you noticed how the nastiest towns are invariably thin?”
Wonder how Senator Gracchus might have ranked cities in his version of Runner’s World’s 50 Best Running Cities? And so the pendulum of history continues to swing, picking up speed as it goes. Who knows who or what will get cut out by that mighty blade next?