The average barfly, if he thinks about running at all, doesn’t think much of the idea. Running is for those scrawny, obsessive types. You know, the guys who don’t eat meat, or care about Tom Brady’s passing (or Brady’s girlfriend) as long as they can get out to put in their weekly mileage.
There are some runners who are like that. But most runners are average guys or gals who’ve figured out that the benefits of running outweigh the risk of looking odd while running down a winter street in a reflective jacket and spandex tights.
What are those benefits? First and foremost, if you do enough running, you don’t look too bad in those spandex tights, even if you are a guy (as long as you don’t pick an exceptionally colorful pair). Running helps balance out the days spent behind a desk, and the nights spent trolling at Daisy Buchanan’s. One mile of running burns off about one beer’s worth of calories. Since anyone who can run at all can do a mile in less than 15 minutes, you’d have to be pounding them down to need to spend as much time running as you do drinking.
Running will get you into better shape for your real sports. Let’s look at basketball as an example. Don’t get me wrong, a good game of hoops is a great workout. But playing basketball for an hour isn’t going to get you into the shape where you can easily run 3 miles. Everything else being equal (running won’t make you taller, or give you a jump shot) the guy who can run 3 miles can beat the guy who can’t, because he’s going to be able to get out on the break better, get back on D better, and keep it going longer.
Can you think of other things where extra endurance will help you out? I can, and so can your significant other.
Suppose you don’t have a girl (or boy) friend. Running is an excellent way to meet someone who takes care of themselves. That brings us back to the spandex. Don’t you think that if runners didn’t look good in spandex, running clothes would be made of something less revealing, like maybe wool? Races and running clubs are full of healthy, attractive people of all ages. You’ll know that you’ll have at least one thing in common with that hot babe, when you both have a race number pinned to your chest.
A lot of those races, especially the smaller local races, are sponsored by bars or by breweries. You know what that means. That’s right – free beer! If you look around, there’s at least one race every weekend where you can pay your entry fee, slog through a few miles (or just hide until the race is over), and then pound down as many cold frosties as you need. There’s usually food to absorb the beer and help you build your strength for the next run. A lot of races start late on weekend mornings, which means that the post-race beers make a great warmup for the afternoon’s Sox or Patriots game.
And if you want a bigger event, you’re never going to play in a World Series game or a Super Bowl, but you can run the Boston Marathon and run in front of a crowd larger than anything either of those events could hope to draw. To get in, you can work your ass off and meet the qualifying standards, collect a lot of money and slide in by the charity route, or be a lazy bastard and just jump in and run as a bandit. Thousands of people will be cheering for YOU, especially if you’re wearing something identifying you as a local (Go, Somerville!).
A lot of people run in order to help charities. After all, there are a lot of things you can do for exercise. When you enter a race, often a portion of the race fee goes to help out some local charity. Some people want to do more, or they figure that if they’re going to do something as “crazy” as running a marathon, they need the extra motivation of knowing it’s for a good cause. These people sign up to collect money to help others. Often the larger charities will organize training groups to provide camaraderie and and support for inexperienced runners. These groups have target collection requirements, and if you meet those requirements your race entry and sometimes travel to the race is paid for by the charity. The targets are often thousands of dollars. Charity programs have generated millions of dollars over the years.
If your tastes lean more towards drinking than helping, and you don’t mind running a couple miles for a good party, you might want to check into the Hash House Harriers, a “drinking club with a running problem”. Each week, hashers meet at a different location in the area. Before the run, beer is consumed. Then the “hares” mark a trail, and the rest of the group tries to follow it. Usually, the trail is marked in a way that keeps the fast runners from getting too far ahead of the slowest runners, many of whom actually are walking. Each trail has one or more “beer checks”, where the pack stops to rest and replenish their fluids. At the end of the trail, more beer is consumed, silly (often profane) songs get sung, and there’s food (and more beer). Hashes are everywhere – just check the internet (or ask the drunkest person at any race). When you travel, going to a hash is a good way to get some exercise and find a party too. Hash often enough and you may get your very own “hash name”, usually something you wouldn’t want to share in polite company. If you do go to a hash after reading this, be sure to say that “Boner in the Circle” made you come (you will be asked).
And of course, if you want to compete, running a race is just about the purest form of competition there is. The gifted few get to compete to win. Screw them. For the rest of us, there are the smaller races, where almost anyone has a chance to win an age group award. There are races with clydesdale/filly divisions, where heavier people can win without having to beat the scrawny types who train on air and vegetables. And you can always compete with yourself against the clock, trying to do better than you have before. Even when you’re just chugging along to get to the free beer at the end, you’ll find that your competitive urges kick in, and you break into a sprint to beat that fat guy or pass the girl with the nice ass you’ve been following the whole race. Finishing 102nd instead of 103rd can be a great victory sometimes.
So drag your butt off the barstool and give this running thing a try. Take it from someone who stopped three times for beer during one Boston Marathon – the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll develop a better thirst.