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!”

Streaking Fad - 1970s
Streaking Fad – 1970s

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.

Film ‘SPARTACUS’ (1960)

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?


11 thoughts on “FAD OR LIFESTYLE?

    1. Good luck in your training. Low carbs, huh? What’s your fuel source, fat? That’s very low octane. Maybe good for easy runs, but not so much for high intensity training that’s also needed. Not sure if that system is sustainable. So keep me posted. You should pick up Matt Fitzgerald’s book “The New Rules of Marathon, Half-Marathon Nutrition.” Good info in there.

      But I guess one of my questions leaping ahead 100 years is what will be the state of the human genome? Will science have so manipulated our basic genetic makeup over the next century that the impulse toward running as exercise and natural pain killer will be diminished. And that’s to say nothing about the social or civic changes lying ahead.


  1. When the Boston Marathon began to become “too big” in the 70’s standards were imposed to keep it manageable. Technological innovations made this easier. With the larger numbers and lessened standards the highly competitive race became far less so except among the top ten. Standards are important in holding onto the “foot race” even charity runners fund raising should be linked to performances.

  2. Have you seen the film ‘Free to Run’ (released 15 July 2016) Toni? It is an episodic documentary that goes from the free-spirited running in Europe and the USA. As it traced its journey through many stories and histories that we are familiar with, it left me reflecting on the pure running of the 60s. At that time, those who ran largely did it because they loved it, not necessarily because they were good at it. Compare that today to the performance-driven youth, chasing scholarships and now becoming professional before the end of High School, College, or with an expectancy as they leave College.
    There were so many memories that this film evoked and in the final analysis, I believe that I emerged with a clearer picture of my journey, characterized in the mid-70s by a dismay that our sport was being taken over by races for charity. I have nothing against Charities and support many but why can’t we just run for running’s sake? Certainly, we had ‘flash’ events before the current technology of social media. Recall OUR group – Oregon Underground Runners – who would have a ‘telephone tree’ where somebody would decide to have a run on a course known by the runners and they would phone 6 people who in turn would phone 6 people and so on. So, we would have at short notice, people arriving to run, organized yet free in every sense.
    Well, I finish here, since the film very eloquently and poignantly captures the way in which running has changed over the past 50 years. Recommended if not viewed yet ……. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhEWIAQ-CmE

    1. “…dismay that our sport was being taken over by races for charity. I have nothing against Charities and support many but why can’t we just run for running’s sake?”

      Peter, that is MY exact question.

      How, exactly, is it that competitive running/racing got saddled with the burden that it is only worthy if it is supporting charities? Like you, I have nothing against them, and also support many, but I just want to race for running’s sake.

      Who goes to a professional baseball, football, basketball, or hockey game, and makes their decision based upon if and which charities are being supported? Do auto racing fans make that conscious decision? Do golf fans or tennis fans decide which tournaments they’re going to attend or participate in based upon if and which charities are involved?

      Until running can cast off the shackles of “having to be for charity”, I don’t think we’ll ever have a chance of recovering the glory days of the 70s and 80s.

  3. Do you think I may be related to Senator Gracchus? I always worry when the hostess is thin — I know I’ll be served raw vegetables! Interesting article and observations — thank you. Gloria Graceffa Ratti

  4. Hi Toni: Have to disagree, in this instance I’m more of an optimist than you. Your comparing marathon dancers and streakers to runners is not a relevant one. Millions of people didn’t compete in marathon dancing and certainly millions didn’t take up the fad of streaking. Marathon dances and streaking were fads; hula hoops were fads and certainly more people spun hula hoops around their hips than danced for 48-hours straight or took off their clothes and streaked across their college quad or the stage at the Academy Awards, but you don’t see too many people using hula hoops anymore. Running is not a fad, it’s natural physical movement that humans have engaged in ever since our ancestors first stood upright.

    Regarding the Running USA stats: there are many more races/events for people to run jog or walk in now than there were ten or even five years ago. Many of these events are ‘non-traditional’ races like color runs or mud runs, which are certainly more ‘faddish’ than a ‘regular’ road race. I haven’t looked at the stats, but I’m wondering if they are breaking down the participant numbers based on type of event. Major marathons are still selling out, as are other ‘traditional’ road races such as Falmouth, Beach-to-Beacon, Peachtree etc.

    As far as the folks that Toya coaches, are all of them really going back to a sedentary lifestyle after they’ve achieved their goals of competing in a marathon or a shorter distance race? Do they give up on running or working out at all? Do 100% of them quit working out completely or do they stop competing but continue to engage in some sort of physical exercise such as running or jogging a few times a week?

    My question (besides all the ones I asked in the preceding paragraph!) would be: are you referring to running as a physical activity that people engage in for any number of reasons, or are you referring to competing?


    1. Claudia,

      I really didn’t compare running to the other fads so much as wonder how future folks might look at running as we look back at those other fads today. And, yes, Toya’s clients do continue to run, though not all with purpose after their goals were met.

      RUSA stats indicate that the drop in participation 2013 to 2015 is to be found in the Millenial cohort, which doesn’t speak well for the future, just as golf has lost millions of players over the last five years with Tiger’s absence and we Baby Boomers aging out. Running isn’t going to begin hemorrhaging participants, but I wonder whether participation will remain steady as the Boomers begin to depart.

  5. Toni…i’m glad I’m old. That’s all I can say.

    To see a glimpse into the future watch the movie “Wall-E”, they’re almost there now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.