Marathoning as a cultural event: a marathon or a sprint?
Despite what the flood of content and commentary surrounding this past weekend’s monumental, marathon-based feat might have you think, national marathon participation is on the decline.
Since peaking in 2013, the number of Americans finishing marathons has precipitously dropped, reports Omari Sankofa II of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and last year, two million fewer Americans completed a marathon than in 2013.
What culturally-shifting events took place in 2013 that might account for the waning in the marathon’s popularity? The Post-Gazette didn’t dare speculate. But we here at Citius Mag‘s investigative speculation desk (henceforth known as Citi-guess Mag) weren’t afraid to get our hands dirty, then get our keyboards dirty by typing various search queries with our dirty hands.
Citi-guess posits it was one or more of the following 2013 happenings that killed the marathon.
Scientists 3D-print a living ear
In February of 2013, a team of bio-engineers and physicians from Cornell University printed a dang ear. The immediate impact of a lab-produced body part may not have swayed the general public away from running a marathon. But it’s a slippery slope. For many people, running is a means of getting or staying healthy. And in a world where a failing limb or organ can be lopped off and replaced via printer, the incentive to delay bodily degradation goes out the window.
The birth of Prince George of Cambridge
The birth of many children is cause for celebration. The birth of a royal baby is not. It is instead cause for deep introspection–both of oneself, and the horrible, fame- and fortune-worshiping society we inhabit. People like to bemoan the existence of the Kardashians. Well, the Royal Family is the original Kardashians, except the Kardashians have at least done some good in bringing attention to the Armenian Genocide.
Many would-be marathoners read about George’s birth in July of 2013, and probably thought to themselves: “shit, this little dumbass can be the biggest screw-up in history, and will die a wealthy, famous, and probably beloved person… meritocracy is a myth and there is no point in bettering myself though running.”
2013 was the year America’s male sweetheart decided to exclusively appear in films where he played highly unlikable, sociopathic and exploitative capitalists.
In The Wolf of Wall Street he played Jordan Belfort, and in The Great Gatsby he played Jay “The Great” Gatsby. Both films strive to admonish the decadence, materialism, and greed displayed by Leo’s character, but both fail tremendously in doing so. Most dummies who watched these movies only saw the glitz and glam of Leo in a tux, pouring champagne down his gullet, and not the eventual social or legal repercussions of his opulence.
Several million Americans who might have otherwise run marathons, instead dedicated their leisure time to creating viral Instagram and Twitter accounts promoting these fictionally-depicted lifestyles. 3.4 million followers can’t be wrong, folks.
California saw a pretty severe drought in 2013, and for much of Florida, Texas, and the West Coast, it was one of the warmest years on record. That means for three of the largest population hubs in the United States (the Northeast corridor and Great Lakes region also saw a warm year, just not to the same extent as the aforementioned places), it was just hot and miserable outside a lot of the time, and for Californians in particular, forest fires and their sooty exhaust had to be avoided by remaining indoors.
South Dakota actually saw a cooler than average 2013, but that sparsely populated rectangle just doesn’t have enough people to offset the inactivity of half a nation. And thus, marathon participation fell.
“Harlem Shake” injuries
2013 was a simpler time, in that memes weren’t quite big enough to have reached your racist uncle, which means memes weren’t quite big enough determine a presidential election.
That said, if you logged on during a month-long stretch in 2013, you probably saw somebody post a video of them flailing around to the song “Harlem Shake” by Baauer, moving in a way that doesn’t even resemble the actual Harlem Shake dance.
Most of us runners are meek, fragile people, who could roll an ankle just thinking about middle school gym class. This cultural phenomenon forced many dweebs, including endurance athletes, into gyrating, twisting, and even contorting their bodies, resulting in countless snapped tendons. Can’t run a marathon if you severed your MCL doin’ a meme, can you?
The likeliest outcome: a comedy of errors
Like just about everything in life, there’s never one, clean answer. Could the marathon’s decline from a participatory standpoint be the result of Cross Fit or Selena Gomez? Sure. But in all likelihood, it was a combination of things that began the plummeting popularity of one of the least objectively appealing mainstream sporting activities.
This sort of postmortem look at the dwindling popularity of the marathon isn’t fun to do, but it’s necessary if we wish to save our sport. Only by understanding its ills can we bolster the marathon’s future.