Marathons Are Why We’re Better

Man is the supreme long distance runner on the planet.

Man is the supreme long distance runner on the planet.

There are really only two things which set man apart within the animal kingdom: our intellect and long distance running.

In nearly every other aspect we are biologically bested by our house pets and utterly eclipsed by the best nature has to offer. Our cats jump longer, our dogs sprint faster, our birds fly higher, our fish swim deeper.  Tortoises and koi outlive us, mice and rabbits are more fecund,  lizards and spiders can regrow limbs.  Man’s vision, olfaction, audition, gustation, and somatosensation are nothing to brag about.  Our branch of evolution has exchanged raw physicality for refined minds.

But when it comes to long distance running, we still reign supreme.  Our elite athletes can sustain faster speeds for longer than the best nature has to throw at us and even the average weekend warrior is competitive.  Our closest friends the dog and the horse are fittingly our greatest rivals for endurance running.  Although cooperative canid hunters can sprint faster than humans, over distances as short as a mile or two, man can catch and overtake domestic dogs, wolves, and African wild dogs.  So too can migratory ungulates–a favored prey of the social carnivores–gallop faster than humans sprint and maintain credible speed over great distances.  But even they will fall to the sheer endurance of men who can run twice as far during a morning marathon than horses can stride in a day.

Long before our brains and hands propelled us to the Moon and back, it was determination and our feet that secured our evolutionary niche: we are the apes who run down our prey in the hot sun.  Our physical ability to dissipate heat efficiently and specialized fibers in our legs were our trademark long before our brains grew large enough to arm us with more than sharpened sticks.  But over time we started to throw those sticks and stones, to fling them with levers and slings, then shoot them with bows and then fire them from cannons.  And soon we would launch ourselves in the air with the same principles we learned when flinging sticks, and rocket ourselves into space as reliably as we can fire a bullet from a gun.

But we don’t just use our weapons to hunt our prey, we turn them on each other.  Our physical ability to efficiently shed heat is more evolved than our mental ability to shed hate and our moral fiber is not yet as refined as our muscle fibers.  But we are evolving.

The 2013 Boston Marathon is a symbol of all that is right with man’s evolving brain.  Tens of thousands of peaceful people gathering to compete in a social and physical activity that welcomes all ages and nations to stand together, professional and amateur, old and young, men and women faced with the same challenge: to overcome their own mental and physical limitations, to better their best, and only tangentially consider their rank versus others.  Even though distance running is arguably the pinnacle of physical achievement for men triumphing over themselves and over nature, there is little fame or money and poor public appreciation of just how special marathons are in relation to who man is among the beasts.

But fame and money aren’t needed or wanted out there on the pavement.  Marathons are rather unique in their cosmopolitan nature.  The vast majority of participants are recreational and everyone competes together.  Devoid of specialized equipment and little in the way of rules, marathons are run on every continent.  A sexangenarian running the race pushing his disabled son in a wheelchair runs alongside an Olympic medalist Kenyan woman and a mother-daughter team celebrating their victory over cancer.

That’s why the attack on the Boston Marathon is even more asinine than it was evil.  I can’t imagine worse publicity, worse imaging, for whatever cause or statement that the bomber is attempting to make.

Attacking a peaceful sporting event with amazingly fit people competing for self betterment, in front of a stand of flags of many nations celebrating unity and harmony of all mankind, just feet from what had to be the highest concentration of physicians and medical professionals on the planet at that moment, with thousands of other first responders on site in a large urban city with the emergency capacity to rapidly handle such a scenario. The bomber wasn’t only vile, they are amazingly stupid.

In a year from now there will be resilient amputees crossing the line of the next Boston Marathon and no one will give one shit about evil in the hearts of a few, they will rejoice in the enduring spirit of sport.  Then, as now, we will witness thousands of triumphs of the human spirit.  Once again the youngest and oldest will meet on the streets of Boston, some in wheelchairs or standing on prosthetic legs, and they will run.  They will endure.  Some will carry with them the shrapnel from a crude bomb and all will carry the images and memory of yesterday.  But 26.2 miles later they will stride past the flags of many nations and prove to themselves and the world that our morals can be as strong as our muscles, that we can shed hate as well as we shed heat, and that our ability to fling sticks and rocks and shrapnel at each other will never diminish our ability to endure, to prosper, and to succeed.

The enduring image of the 2013 Boston Marathon is not the terror intended by the bomber.  It is the sea of humanity that flooded back into the void left by the bomb.  The men and women who saved lives on those streets and who will rebuild them in the coming months and years.  Boston, the Marathon, and America were not diminished by the bomber, rather they were the proving ground for yet another generation of heroes.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.