Watching someone en route to victory at a big-city marathon, you’re liable to hear a tv commentator say “He makes it look so easy”. In fact, it shouldn’t be surprising that the winner makes it look easy. What would be surprising is the guy finishing last making it look easy. Surprising would be a marathon won by someone struggling to maintain form while out-classing other runners exhibiting elegant form and efficient biomechanics.
America is a much softer place than a generation ago. In becoming softer, we’ve gone from lionizing marathon winners to lionizing marathon finishers to where we are today: lionizing those who have the “courage” to start.
Instead of celebrating remarkable athleticism, we reserve our highest praise for the ordinary athlete who shows remarkable effort: he with the tortured expression who stumbles across the finishing line hours after the winners’ press conference – preferably long after the course has been closed.
Don’t get me wrong: I, too, admire mediocre athletes (like me) who demonstrate good, old-fashioned grit. I’ve come to admire consistency even more than grit – particularly among ordinary athletes who have less at stake than their elite counterparts. During the decade or so I lived in Boulder, Colorado, though, I was impressed almost exclusively by the sight of elite runners, most often Kenyan, gliding along the Boulder’s trails with seeming little effort. These days I get pumped when driving past the ubiquitous “weekend warriors” jogging on the sidewalk in the morning chill.
But admiration for ordinary people doing difficult things is quite different from the characteristically Baby Boomer tendency to treat the mundane as remarkable. Committing to a fitness regime isn’t admirable: actually lacing up your trainers day in and day out and heading out the door is.