Fifteen Reasons to Do the 26.2

I’m often asked why -- Why run all those miles? Sacrifice late Saturday nights, late Sunday mornings? Isn't it painful, boring, time-consuming? Sometimes I ask myself the same question -- recalling a younger version of myself, the kid who dreaded the single lap around the track that kicked off gym class as much as our puke-green-and-gold uniforms. So in honor of the 26.2, here are fifteen of the lesser known benefits of distance running.

1. It’s the cheapest, simplest form of exercise around. Don’t believe the hype about needing hi-tech shoes that you change as often as the oil in your car. I plan to run Philly in a $3 pair of Skechers bought used on the streets of a Podunk town in southern Tanzania after I had left behind my normally scheduled running shoes. Ethiopian Abebe Mikila won the 1960 Rome Olympics barefooted – the first African ever to take home Olympic gold. “The son of peasants, he was unused to footwear,” we are told. If you are slow, don’t even try to blame it on your shoes.

2. Best way to meet your friendly neighborhood pimps, pushers and preachers – the only other folk on the streets of my hood at 7am on a Sunday.

3. Slick way to screen first dates and prospective mates. Ladies, you can learn a lot about a man’s character – not to mention his stamina – by seeing how he handles a hard run. Is he cocky, conciliatory, or cautious? A good sport? Laid back or hard driving? Play slow to get a look at his booty in motion.

4. The comforting knowledge that I can run longer and harder than any would-be assailant – a very practical skill in the nation’s crime-ridden capital.

5. While most of humanity is still slobbering on their pillows, I’ve witnessed the changing of the guard between the night owls and the early birds; seen blue heron, deer and butterflies; gone window shopping in Georgetown; flirted with the cute babies, boys and puppies that make up the morning pedestrian parade; and generally been privy to countless precious slices o' life you will miss unless you go out like Bob Marley and travel with your feet as your only carriage.

6. A reason to force yourself out of bed on those blue and grey days.

7. Like that Russian roulette game called internet dating, a chance to interact with people you probably wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve run with village kids in flip flops who showed me up on dirt roads; porters at the foot of Kilimanjaro, 15,000 feet above sea; hardcore ultrarunners out for 15-mile “fun runs” and newbies running their first marathons; Southern-belle sorority girls and construction workers; lo, and even Republicans.

8. All things being relative, it makes life’s daily challenges seem a little more surmountable. What’s spilled milk after a grueling 20-mile run in the rain? My life motto (stolen from Nietzche): What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

9. Humility. Just when you’re feeling invincible (and smug about being able to outrun your dates), karma will put in your path that village kid in flip-flops who will make you feel 22, 33, 66 or anything but 12 again.

9. The Zenlike pleasure of sprinting as fast and effortlessly as a laser beam, every cell in your body mobilized toward one goal, no energy to waste on thinking. Most of the best things in life aren't free -- they come with a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to log a lot of miles of training before your body is such a well-tuned machine that you get these moments of bliss, but when they come, they're worth the hard miles they went into it.

10. A legitimate medical excuse to eat fried chicken. (Three-plus hour runs require serious caloric replenishment and protein for muscle repair.) I’m ashamed to admit how much I’m motivated by a greasy piece of dead fowl. Yuuummmm. On that note, it is also a legitimate medical excuse to request massages and foot rubs.

11. Essential cross-training for virtually any other sport. It will even give you the edge in ping pong, I hear. My trainers call my legs my secret weapon, and call out boxers who lie about their road work (you can always tell who really runs by how quick they run out of gas in sparring). Admittedly, my tree trunks have not won me any fights, as the girl I have fought and lost to twice now came at me like a rabid rhino, obliterating me from the ring in the first round both times, but I am assured that it will be a different fight once I get past the first round.

12. Calmness and clarity of mind. Unfortunately, if you have ADHD-riddled genes such as I do, it takes about two hours (incidentlally the time the body goes into fat-burning overdrive) to achieve it, so that means running a half marathon to get there.

13. It’s what separates man from beast. While homo sapiens is a poor sprinter compared to its four-footers, the fossil evidence shows that long-distance running may have been key to man's evolution. Unlike our cousins the apes, humans have spring-like tendons that effectively store and release energy during long-distance running in a way that is quite different from the pendulum-mechanics of walking. Achilles tendons and arches, aerodynamically designed to serve as shock absorbers and energy stores. Pretty amazing stuff. It may be a by-product of evolution rather than us being truly born to run, but why waste a gift of nature?

14. For the love of God, if David Lee Roth, P Diddy, Oprah, Al Gore and Dubya can do it. Pop trivia quiz - best finishing time amongst these celebs: El Capitan, at 3:44. I wonder if Gore asked for an instant replay to confirm his time. Then again, Bush probably ran in Florida... The rock star lifestyle apparently does not a great marathoner make: DLR took six hours to finish.

15. Go ahead, squeeze em. Thighs of granite. R Crumb fans, you know the kind I’m talking about. Pony legs you can ride all night. Like my dad used to say, shoes should be sturdy - and as should be women. And unlike some other hard parts, they won’t leak or give me cancer in ten years. In fact, I’m building bone density to protect me in old age, so all you nay-sayers who tell me I’m slaughtering my knees with all the pavement pounding can kiss my...

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