Since two post-grads at Harvard came up with the Tough Mudder concept in 2010 – turning a $20 Facebook ad into a $70 million dollar company (see http://www.inc.com/tim-donnelly/tough-mudder-conquering-obstacles-to-build-70-million-business.html) – formal racing events have started cropping up everywhere, with more and more people finding purpose through participation in the collective competitions. This is particularly noticeable around my home state of Colorado, where you can’t swing a bag of Bavarian cream doughnuts without hitting a runner or biker training for some upcoming Olympianesque venture.
The increasing number of these competitions troubles me. Before 2010, I remember hearing about one or two races going on each summer. I even decided to participate every now and again (e.g., running the Bolder Boulder 10k in 2006 with about 35,000 other friendly foot racers; official race site found here: http://www.bolderboulder.com).
But in the summer of 2016, I don’t think a single weekend went by without a) being told by somebody about a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or some other race I should run, or b) hearing friends talk about the rigorous race they just ran both for personal pleasure and for the love of all that is good in Middle Earth.
If the increased frequency of these races isn’t enough, there’s always the apotheosis of participants to worry about. Like heroes of myth and war, the runners draw nigh to deity for their commitment, their exertion, their sacrifice in the field of battle.
Those who are more committed receive the highest accolades. A run-of-the-mill 5k is far too easy for many of my demigod acquaintances, so they push the limits of superstardom even further by competing in duathlon or triathlon events. Showing up at some house party afterward, these superstar runners become a kind of Aragorn son of Arathorn returning victorious from the Gates of Mordor, receiving no shortage of offers to be nursed back to health by a host of dreamy she-elves.
Meanwhile, little recognition is given to those men and women who would rather escape into the summertime shadows, choosing to spend their lives, or so it would seem, on lesser-praised pursuits. These stumblebums, as I will call them, often find themselves retreating into the roots of the mountains, obsessed with protecting or perfecting some non-physical and often solitary activity which much of society has either come to forget or chosen to ignore.
Whatever the idée fixe may actually be for these stumblebums matters very little. In many parts of our country, the bottom line is this: if you do not run, you are not seen. You quickly become Gollum in his Misty Mountain cave – pallid, invisible, alienated – driven ever downward by your maddening fancies. Escaping your declension into darkness hinges on a single decision – the decision to cast your artistic or otherwise non-heroic passions into the fire and join the fellowship of race-runners who surround you.
(author’s sketch of Gollum)
Of course, I’m using broad strokes here, shamelessly dividing society’s masses into master categories like Durable v. Delirious while calling far too much attention to Tolkien’s classic tale of Middle Earth. Perhaps I need to spend more time acknowledging (pardon the cliche) that we are all together in this race called life, engaged in daily battles with far more insidious foes than those I’ve mentioned here. Perhaps I should praise our diverse predilections and instead depict a more uplifting vision of human experience, embracing the obvious benefits of healthy living and widespread admiration for artistic expression.
But this is satire, rife with hyperbole. And, truth be told, joining the race-running masses this summer remains decidedly low on my personal list of priorities. So, I choose now to return to Middle Earth and raise a sort of battle cry, if you will, for myself and other protectors of “the Precious” beneath the Misty Mountains:
Someday, superstars and stumblebums may unite in a valiant effort to keep the hordes of Mordor at bay.
This is not that day.
Someday, artistic sorts may return to the light, joining more venerated heroes and heroins of our time to restore all that is wrong in the world.
This is not that day.
We may recall that it was Gollum’s all-consuming passion for the Ring, developed over many years alone, that led to his unwitting deliverance of Middle Earth from impending doom. Observing this, and relinquishing any thirst for glory in the field of battle, I raise my voice with renewed conviction.
Gollums of the world – RETREAT!
The summertime shadows are calling.