Monday, March 2, 2015

Marathon—Pride, Ignorance & Achievements

I spent some years of my childhood living a seemingly-perpetual nightmare at my grandparents' house. In some ways, I'd say it was a worse nightmare when compared to the one at Elm Street. Notice that I'm not even using the word "home", because to me it wasn't a home at all—it was just a "house". I can still remember that it was for the most part a place I had hoped to escape from as soon as I could. Those of you who've just recently started reading this blog may be curious to know why. Here is a post to give you some idea of my childhood.

One of the many chores that I did as a boy was to do grocery shopping. As a routine, I'd ride my grandfather's bicycle to a shop in the village a few miles away to buy stuff almost on a daily basis. In the shopping list, you'd find words like Colgate, Lux and Kodak. And the word that I hated the most in the shopping list was Kotex, but that's a different story.

You see, many people are not particularly concerned about using the correct words when they speak. If they could be understood, that's good enough for them; they shall not waste the extra efforts in finding the best word(s) to convey the message. But sometimes, it's also because a word or brandname that has been used way too many times, that that brandname itself is adopted to take the meaning of the item. So when a toothpaste is required, there's that tendency to say Colgate, even though it doesn't necessarily have to be Colgate, specifically—Lion and Close-Up toothpastes are also fine. In a similar way, instead of saying soap bar, the preference to use Lux, although Palmolive or Dove can also do.

Since I started running seriously in mid 2008, I've seen and heard the use of that word "marathon" in the wrong context a number of times; and along with that, many people, especially those who've run the 42.195km marathons, criticizing the use of "marathon" to refer to races of anything shorter than 42.195km. In fact, I myself have tried to elaborate on the meaning of "marathon" in the Kota Kinabalu Running Club facebook page, of which I'm a co-Admin.

Those who've conquered the 42.195km race are of course proud of their achievement, and rightfully so too. The pride and bragging rights that last a lifetime. The pride that annoys them when others appear to equate their achievement with that of a mere 10km or less. They may suffer the pain akin to a bullet wound when some organisers of short races promote their events as "marathons".

The debate continues as to who's right and who's wrong. So here I am to give my two cents' worth of opinion on the subject! 

Let me start by addressing the organisers of running events first. My view is that whenever the word "marathon" is used in the context of running events by organisers, it should only be used to mean the 42.195km race. Likewise, when running clubs and journalists publish articles on the subject of marathons, that word should take the meaning—and only the meaning—of a 42.195km race. It is in that sense that saying something like "10km marathon" is wrong.

Having said that, however, I'm more lenient when people in general use the word "marathon" to mean any distance shorter than the 42.195km race, even if it's as short as 3km or 5km. After all, in most dictionaries, "marathon" has at least 2 meanings, apart from the name of a place in Greece. The first meaning is that of the 42.195km footrace that I speak of above. The second meaning is that of a general reference to a long, and often difficult, undertaking. It is in the context of the second meaning that a mere distance of 5km may be a "marathon" for some people. 

I can accept a novice runner's declaration that he has just completed a 10km "marathon", because, to him, that is a distance to be reckoned with on foot. Much the same way we can understand what one means when he says something like "I've just had a shopping spree marathon!"

Whatever the case is, one thing is certain—nobody can deny that when one conquers a distance that is tough for him by any means, that is an achievement worth celebrating. Taking the second meaning of the dictionary, a double-amputee completing a 5km race in a wheelchair has conquered a "marathon"; an obese person spending 6 months to lose 30kg has conquered a "marathon"; and a parent seeing his autistic child graduating from university has conquered a "marathon". Those are all extremely huge achievements that last a lifetime too; and they are all "marathons" of epic proportions, worth to shout about.

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