Sunday, February 15, 2015

Confessions of a Neophyte Marathon Maniac

Well, I did it. I’ve become an official Marathon Maniac! My friend Scott told me about the group a while ago, and when I looked at their website, this is what I found:

“Are you addicted to running marathons?
·       Do your thoughts switch to the next scheduled race immediately after finishing a marathon?
·       Are you signed up for more than one race right now?
·       Do you look at the race schedule more than once a week?
·       Do you start to feel down when you haven't run a marathon in a while?
·       Are your closets and dressers filled with marathon t-shirts?
·       When asked about your racing from non running people, do you find yourself talking with great passion to the point that the person that asked the question regrets ever asking?
·       Do you plan all your vacations around a marathon race?”

And my answers were: yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. It was clear that these were my people. Clinically obsessed marathoners who are just in it for the good times, and who don’t take any of it too seriously. So the seed was planted, and I set up a race schedule that would get me into the club. To meet the lowest level admission requirements, you have to run three marathons in 90 days. I did St. Louis on October 19, Rehoboth Beach on December 6 and Jackson, Mississippi on January 10. When I got done with the race in Jackson, I went back to the hotel and showered, and before I even got dressed, zapped off the e-mail with my racing bona fides to the Marathon Maniacs admissions committee. The response came two days later. I was in! Maniac #10,578. The welcome e-mail said it all:

“Dan, at last you have found refuge, a place where you can call home, where the Maniacal can feel Normal again, and once again be treated like a normal human being. Welcome To The Marathon Maniacs AsyLum!!!! [sic]”

I was so excited. In the club! I told all my friends and went immediately on-line to buy $50 worth of Marathon Maniacs stickers and low-quality running-wear. Maniacs are always very visible at races because they all wear absolutely hideous bright yellow shirts. And they all hang out together and look like they’re having the best time of anyone. I always kept an eye on the group, nonchalantly sneaking glances out of the corner of my eye. But I was a little intimidated. Didn’t think I could really engage since I wasn’t a member.

What’s fun about the Maniacs, and unique in the running world, is that their focus is on longevity and fun, not pace and rankings. As a group, they’re not particularly fast. Some finish races way up at the top of the list, but a lot of them just slog along at whatever pace they like. More important than setting a personal best time is saving enough energy to throw back some beers and party with their friends after the race. And a lot of them are old, which, to me, is the most inspiring thing of all. If I ever become one of the sinewy 80 year-olds who runs 10 marathons in a year, which are commonplace at any Maniac gathering, I’ll feel like I have succeeded in life.  

It’s refreshing not to talk about numbers all the time. People are just inherently very competitive. And when you do something that is very obviously quantifiable, like running races, people always want to know about the numbers. When someone asks “how did the race go,” and you tell them that it was great because you met some really nice people and the scenery was magnificent and the hills were just right and there was an awesome sense of camaraderie at the after-party, they look at you like you’re an idiot. What they mean is, what was your time and pace and overall ranking.

As even the most neophyte-level Buddhist can tell you, the key to happiness is to stop comparing yourself to others. Live your life as it is. Stop trying to perpetually figure out how great you are relative to others. However gorgeous and rich and brilliant and talented you are, there will always be people out there who are better. And however bad you think you have it, there will always be two billion people who are much worse off.

Maniacs are much more about good times and community. It’s not about the numbers. And yet…

My three marathons in 90 days earned me the very lowliest Maniac membership status available – one star, bronze. There are ten levels. To get one level up – two star, silver – you have to run three marathons in 16 days, six marathons in six months or eight marathons in a year. To get to the top level – ten star, titanium – you have to run 52 marathons in one year, 30 marathons in 30 states in one year or 20 marathons in 20 countries in one year [Note from my editor, Leslie, “don’t even fucking think about it”]. Once you become a Maniac, you’re in for life (or for as long as you continue to pay your $15 annual dues). You never have to re-qualify. The initial bliss and excitement of getting my official Maniac number lasted about a week. And then, of course, I started thinking, wouldn’t it be kinda cool to move up just one star? It’s great to be in the group, but who wants to be a one star anything? Sure, we’re in it for the good times. And yeah, the whole experience is not something to be quantified. But c’mon, let’s face it, isn’t two always better than one?

And so it goes. I’ve found my home in the Marathon Maniacs. I made it into the club. And I hope to keep running and running for as long as I can, and drinking beer with awesome, enthusiastic compatriots every time I cross a finish line. But maybe someday, somehow, I’ll figure out how to move my ranking up just one tiny little notch.