Marathon
Rashi Kakkar
The Dark Side Of Marathon Running

Every marathon participant is in competition with himself/herself to finish the distance as well as to improve his/her timing. And some participants tend to take this obsession is a little too far.

It has been a decade since Delhi got bitten by the Marathon bug. What started in 2005 with about 18,000 registered participants has in less than ten years almost doubled its participant count. The Airtel Delhi half marathon has now grown to maturity. And with it so have the participants.

Gone are the days when people would register for the marathon “for fun”. It is now serious business. Most participants take great pains to prepare themselves both mentally and physically for the race. While most people are not “in it to win it” yet they all go in to the race with self imposed targets. Breathing techniques and strides are worked on, diets are altered and mental conditioning workshops are undertaken. For months these participants prepare for that one day.

For most of these participants life is now clearly divided into the pre marathon running days and post. Almost all of them will narrate stories to you about how their life has taken a turn for the better. From lower cholesterols to better sleep, greater discipline to enhanced confidence each one of them will have their own personal stories to narrate.

This might not sound like much of a problem. And in many ways it’s not. After all what are the side effects of running besides maybe a one odd injury? Let me remind you again that every marathon participant is in competition with himself/herself to finish the distance as well as to improve his/her timing. And some participants tend to take this obsession is a little too far. There are times when their love for running starts resembling addiction.

I have a few friends who are avid marathon runners. They have altered every aspect of their life to suit their running schedule. In some extreme cases relationships, friendships and careers have also been sacrificed. I remember one of my friends mentioning –

I now need more and more kms of running to make me feel good about my existence.

For me his statement came uncomfortably close that of an alcoholic who needs more and more drinks to feel buzz or a substance abuser who needs a greater quantity to feel the hit. The parallels are hard to ignore.

I know of runners who get withdrawal symptoms on the days they don’t run. This leads them to push their body even with high fever and massive pain. The scary part is that most of them understand the implication. Running with a bad knee can lead to a meniscus tear. Not taking enough breaks to recover can cause plantar fasciitis. Yet they risk it all. They need their high.

This behavior fits very well within the definition of addiction. Addiction is a state defined by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. Most sports psychologists agree that “An estimated three percent of the general population suffers from exercise dependence.”While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (considered the gold standard guide for classifying and diagnosing psychological issues) does not recognize exercise addiction yet it is not an unknown phenomenon. A quick Google search leads to approximately 36,000 webpages!

So how much is too much? That is for each individual to decide. Though it is important for us all to remember that that sometimes too much of a good thing does not mean great.