Let me say right off that I think running is a great spectator sport. For this I must publicly thank the Boston Marathon.
Every year, long after the victory celebrations are over. I drive home from work along the darkening 25th mile. Annually I dodge the last of the valiant 7,000 as they drag their numbed and numbered bodies to the finish line. v
Just one glance at their faces rekindles my commitment to remain forever on the sidelines.
But now I have another reason not to run. Running may be good for your opinion of yourself, but it's lousy for your opinion of others.
A study, not enclosed in my marathon program booklet, was done on 81 fairly sedentary middle-aged men at Stanford University. More than half of them were randomly assigned to a running regimen for a year.
They ended up -- here's the good news -- less anxious, less depressed and somewhat less hostile to others. But there was a wrinkle. The better they felt about themselves, the worse they apparently felt about their non-running partners.
What does this mean? According to the lean, running and unwed head of the research program, Lewis K. Graham II, "The exercisers lost a fair amount of weight and became more fit, leaner and more attractive . . . one might assume that they became more comfortable with themselves, with the side effect that they were a little less satisfied with their spouses."
This confirms my own private research that running has become the latest way for one person to outgrow, or outdistance, another. It is a new standard against which partners may judge each other . . . badly.
In the early 1960s, you may recall, it was common for married men to explain in darkened cocktail lounges how they had simply outgrown their wives. The hometown gal who put them through college, graduate school, fatherhood and three corporate moves just didn't fit as the vice president's wife. The higher he got, the wider they gapped.
In the late 1960s, it was equally common for married women to outgrow their husbands. He was still Consciousness I, while she was Consciousness Raised.
A few years ago, self-improvement was the primary co-respondent for divorce. The man who embarked on the One True Course -- from Berkeley to Nirvana -- wanted his wife to follow. The woman who actualized herself wanted her husband to keep up the psychobabble.
Similarly, a man with a mantra spiritually "outgrew" the woman without one, and the woman with an insight began to look upon her mate as myopic. As for the mate who "did" est alone, he often ended up alone.
Today's self-improvement tack is, of course, physical. Like medieval flagallants, we are supposed to whip our muscles into line and beat our cellulite into shape. It is no longer enough to walk in the path of righteousness; we have to run in it.
So this study makes a lot of sense. It isn't (forgive me, Lewis Graham) that runners feel "more comfortable with themselves." It's hard to feel comfortable with shin splints, and a stitch in your side.
What they feel is more virtuous.
From long observation, and brief participation, I can tell you that running is dreadful. The psychic rewards don't come from oxygen; they come from overcoming the desire to quit, squelching the urge to stop this infernal nonsense and lie down.
Runners do not actually enjoy doing it; they enjoy the fact that they did it. Like dieters who live on watercress, they learn to savor the heady flavor of their own will power.
As the research suggests, it becomes harder for martyrs to live with mortals. The more virtuous they feel about running, the more superior they feel to non-running. Not to mention non-runners.
The Stanford researchers have stumbled upon one of the strange and personal truths of the ascetic '80s. Self-discipline looks down on self-indulgence, the lean look down on the lax, and only the couples who keep pace together, stay together.
But they forgot one thing: A spectator never ran out on anyone