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On Twin Cities Marathon weekend, counting the joys of running

This Sunday marks the 35th Twin Cities Marathon. Several thousand runners, including me, will embark on the race that begins in downtown Minneapolis, winds through the chain of lakes, proceeds up West River Parkway, across the Mississippi and down Mississippi River Boulevard, and then down Summit Avenue to finish at the state Capitol.

Neil Kraus

As recently as 5 years ago, I never would have imagined that I could finish a marathon. I played basketball in high school, but never really had that much endurance. I ran a few 10-mile races in my 20s, but was plagued by various foot problems. So I basically gave up running for many years. But in my early 40s, I tried again, and years of not running seemed to have helped my foot considerably. After a few half marathons, I thought I should go for the big race, and so here I am ready to start my third. 

The benefits of running and of exercise in general have been widely documented in numerous major studies in recent years. Health and fitness experts are increasingly arguing for the important role that physical movement plays in our health. By using everything from standing desks to fitness trackers, many people appear to be taking this advice seriously and are trying to change their sedentary ways. 

It’s a challenge in our culture

At the same time, giving priority to healthy lifestyles is an ongoing challenge in our culture. Junk food of all kinds is relatively cheap and easily accessible. Gym memberships and simply having the leisure time to exercise are largely correlated with economic class. Runners are not a representative sample of the population. And while the serious problem of “food deserts” has entered popular discussion, we still have a way to go to create a popular culture in which health and fitness play a more central role. 

After all, we live in a world where soda and fast-food companies are major sponsors of the Olympics and professional sports leagues. The contradictions with such sponsorships are beyond troubling, and send the worst possible messages about to the nation’s young people, so many of whom idolize athletes. One wonders, only half sarcastically, what might be next: tobacco companies sponsoring the health-promoting organizations? Liquor companies sponsoring addiction treatment centers? 

If you ask any runner, they will tell you the many benefits of running that go beyond the obvious. Pushing yourself in a manner that feels good both physically and psychologically, running addresses many human needs. It can be a time of mindfulness, allowing us to notice so many of the things in the world that we fail to notice in our daily lives. During a run, the mind can wander, allowing one to think about what is truly important in life. Running can also be an escape from the many challenges of everyday life. Whatever issues one faces are more easily addressed after one completes a run. The nature of your thought changes during vigorous exercise, especially when doing it outdoors, and life and all of its problems become, for a little while anyway, much more manageable.

The energy is indescribable

Yet I don’t consider myself a real runner. In other words, I am not a natural. And this is what makes the Twin Cities Marathon such a joyful experience, particularly for those of us not native to the area. The course is lined with tens of thousands of people, so many of whom root for each and every race participant. The energy throughout the course is indescribable. It’s a 26-mile party. In the two marathons I have run to date, I honestly cannot recall how many complete strangers have looked me in the eye and cheered for me as if I were their best friend, or brother, or son, or grandson, or dad. While I will have my handful of family members and friends supporting me Sunday, when you have run 20 miles, and are faced with the long, painful grind from the Mississippi River uphill to Snelling along Summit Ave., it is impossible to say how much all this spectator support means. 

So from all of us runners, particularly those of us who are not naturals, thanks to all of you! The marathon just would not be the same without you.

And start moving. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you.

Neil Kraus, of St. Paul, is a professor and chair of political science at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. He is the author of “Majoritarian Cities: Policy Making and Inequality in Urban Politics.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/09/2016 - 01:45 pm.

    Marathon Running Is Not A Healthy Activity

    Human bodies are not designed to run for 26.2 miles, and it is harmful to the body. When you think of a marathon runner, what image pops into your mind? Just generically, not your spouse or son or Dad. Typically, it is of someone who is rather gaunt, and not muscular. They have little fat stores, and would have a hard time surviving in the classic “stranded on a desert island” scenario.

    Contrast that with the short distance runners in the Olympics. They are all well built, with well toned muscles even in the upper body. That’s because human were made for short bouts of strenuous exercise. You’d be lucky to be on that desert island if you were marooned with a sprinter.

    When our bodies are under strain and stress for hours, at some point the body wonders, “How long are we going to have to do this?” The body begins to burn muscle and conserve fat. Thus, the gaunt long distance runner.

    Overly taxing the heart is also a side effect. It’s no secret that years of long distance running is associated with heart problems. What did Jim Fixx die from? The TC Marathon has a corporate sponsor, and what kind of products do they sell? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

    There is a sort of urban lore about Herb Brooks within hockey circles. They talk about “Herbies”, having players (in practice) start at one goal line, then skate successively to the near blue line and back, red line and back, far blue line and back, and the far goal line and back. But Brooks talked to various experts at the U of M, and figured out that hockey players rarely skate continuously for an entire 45 second shift. They skate hard for a few seconds, coast, skate for a few seconds, coast,etc. Burst or surge training produces much better results than long distance running.

    Of course, this will be treated as anathema by marathoners.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 10/10/2016 - 09:55 am.

      You’ve nailed it!

      The problem in our society: we’re getting too much exercise. We need to spend more time on the couch, taking the stress off our knees and heart.

      Perhaps there’s truth to your theory of burst exercise being better, perhaps not. At the end of the day most people are desperately in need of more exercise. I don’t see the point of this kind of hair-splitting.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/10/2016 - 09:52 am.

        Did You See

        The part about burst or surge training?

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/10/2016 - 12:39 pm.

          What’s Going On Here?

          The time on my previous post is 9:52, so Mr. Klein’s post had to be before that. But now I see his post indicates 9:55, and further that he amended it. Is this a new MP policy that we can amend posts that other readers have replied to?

          Mods, can we all get an explanation on how this happened? What happened is unfair to me, as Mr. Klein was given a second bite of the apple, but it does not appear that way to readers.

          • Submitted by Tom Nehil on 10/10/2016 - 02:00 pm.

            Edit button

            When commenters click the “Edit” link below their comments and submit an edited version, the comment is re-entered into the moderation queue and the time stamp is updated. The ability to edit comments has been in place since MinnPost upgraded its content management system in early 2012.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/10/2016 - 02:13 pm.

              News To Me

              I haven’t previously seen and “edit” option, nor do I now. Wish I had it available to me as well.

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