I hate to contribute further to the overabundant literature of running, but I fear we may become the first civilization to collapse of shin splints. Everyone else worries about the Soviets; I worry about internal subversion by thin people who, in their mad quest for power over the rest of us, preach ectomorphic marathonism in broad daylight and without a permit.
The ectomorphic conspiracy has gotten so bad in this town that our penultimate president was willing to drive himself to collapse in a road race rather than appear indifferent to its demands. No one, in fact, merely runs in Washington these days. They're always "in training" for the next 26-miler. And I suspect that the arms race is due in part to those Washington politicians and bureaucrats who see it as simply the Boston Marathon by other means.
I believe in fitness. I pump iron regularly and still enjoy what used to be called running or, in the archaic English, jogging. But nobody "jogs" anymore, and running has become a form of physical excess so removed from my activity that I don't know what to call my little jaunts. Having never entered a race, having never run more than 10 miles (except once when I got lost), having never incurred an injury worth telling anyone about over Perrier, I am clearly not a runner. Worse, despite six years of this form of locomotion that dares not say its name, I remain around 200 pounds and not particularly sorry.
Reading the conspiracy's manifestos over the years, I have found in them no joy of running--only an implicit message that I should be dead. Slowly it dawned on me that all those writers and doctors extolling running at ever greater distance and intensity were not seeking to improve the health and happiness of the general populace. They were out for raw, tank- topped power. While the fat and the muscular have, through much of human history, overwhelmed wiry ambition by sheer ponderosity or strength, the running phenomenon has dramatically changed the odds toward the thin.
Once you realize that running is now a battle for political and social status rather than a striving for health, everything becomes clear. You understand, for example, that Dr. Kenneth Cooper is not the Freud of fitness but the Lenin of the lean. Cooper declared aerobic ability (correlated to speed) as the prime measure of health, and thus predetermined that those genetically designed for running would come out on top. His Emaciation Proclamation has been spread by doctors and researchers who are predominantly ectomorphs.They have simply converted their avocation and body build into a prescription. As the gospel proliferated, it became possible for magazines like Runner's World to straight-facedly recommend the running life to all, despite their pages being filled with reader-reported impediments ranging from "severe tightness in the chest area similar to pleurisy" to big toe pain.
The ectomorphic guerrillas have made a tremendous leap in faith from believing running to be healthy (which it is for many) to being interest on longevity and perfect wellness compounded by speed and distance. Recent evidence, for example, has caused the desirable weight figures used by insurance companies and doctors to be raised. Even Cooper counsels moderation in running. But the ectomorphic joggernaut ignores this boring stuff-- what it wants is not health but power.
I admit that the ectomorphs deserve their place in the sun. The endomorphs and mesomorphs haven't done such a good job and alternative somatypes should have a chance. There has been a prejudice against the thin as far back as Isaiah, who wailed, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!"
But they have no right to kill and maim the rest of us in the process. When I mentioned writing about the ectomorphic conspiracy to the late cardiologist Michael Halberstam (an avid proponent of exercise), he told me, "Write it! I've got all these patients with huge hearts and no knees."
It's far too early to say with any certainty whether this crop of power-hungry ectomorphs will procreate a super-race, end up as men and women of normal mortality or turn out to be 130-year-old arthritics. We do know they have made our jeans too tight, our conversations too boring, our sneakers too expensive and chronic pain a totem of health.
And we do know they have achieved what was perhaps their goal all along--to get the rest of us on the run so they could, finally, beat the hell out of us.