Even in modern times, there are those of us who remember when people used to think running the marathon wasn’t just a challenge, but a risk.
Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966, had a father who thought the event was downright dangerous, and was angry at his daughter for even thinking about running it – “he thought I was mentally ill, but he didn’t know I had been training.”
Who could blame Bobbi’s dad in 1966? After all, the entire mythology of the event was based on the Greek messenger Pheidippides running himself into his grave bringing word of victory in a battle against Persians 2500 years ago.
With a debut like that, it’s no wonder it took 2400 years before somebody attempted the distance again. But once it got going and they stripped away that ‘maybe you’re going to die doing it’ element, the marathon boomed because it came to represent the ultimate test of athletic endurance in an increasingly sedentary world.
That’s the thing about consensus beliefs, tasks readily accepted today were once deemed unattainable. Such is the scientific method and the manner of progress. Observation and experimentation lead to the formulation and the testing of hypotheses, and thus does evidence accumulate and knowledge expand.
Of course, there are always science deniers, the proudly lunkheadish, but people generally accept what the data indicates.
It wasn’t that long ago that there was a school of thought that believed trying to run the mile in under four minutes was as physically dangerous as trying to break the sound barrier in flight, another thought-to-be-impossible human endeavor. In fact, the frisson of danger was a big part of why people were intrigued by such monumental undertakings.
Tragedy, after all, could happen, and you could be witness to it. There was a perverse car-crash appeal to such danger. “Playing at the edge” was the mindset for what a long, hard running effort might bring about. (more…)