Why Does Finishing A Marathon Garnish More Praise Than A Lifelong Commitment To Fitness?


Nothing is more rewarding than setting a difficult goal and accomplishing it. It is that underlying premise that has inspired Marathon huddled mass pretty much every race on the planet, whether it’s a footrace down the block, a marathon, or an Indy 500. But when an endeavor such as a marathon is meant to showcase one’s fitness, is praise for accomplishing this feat warranted or is it simply another sign that we as a society tend to reward mediocrity? Let’s first look at the numbers:

  1. Between the years 2000 and 2005, there have been 1,996,000 people who have finished a marathon in the United States alone… and 26% of those who finished a marathon in 2005 did so in a time greater than 7 hours (Marathon Guide).
  2. There are over 230 recorded members of the 100 marathon club, whose membership requires that you have finished over 100 marathons in your life (100 Marathon Club).
  3. The world record for completing a marathon is held by Haile Gebrselassie at a time of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Of those who completed a marathon in 2005, 71.2% of them finished in a time that was twice as long as Haile’s best time (Marathon Guide).
  4. Over 300 individuals have completed a marathon in each of the 50 United States, some have even done it eight times (Wiki).
  5. A 400-pound man has completed a marathon, a 64-year-old man completed 105 in a single calendar year, and a 98-year-old man has also completed a marathon.

An argument that I hear from those who consider a marathon to be a huge accomplishment revolves around the total percentage of people who have run a marathon compared to those who have not. After all, it’s got a nice ring to it when someone brags that, “Only .1% of people have run a marathon”. However, we at Go Healthy Go Fit know that statistics can be misleading. So, sticking with the example of those who completed a marathon in the US in 2005, let’s try and get a better picture of what the competition looked like.

    • The U.S. population was 288.4 million in 2005 (Census).
    • Of that, “In 2005, among the total U.S. adult population surveyed, 60.5% were overweight, 23.9% were obese, and 3.0% were extremely obese.” (CDC).
    • While it is true that many have completed a marathon in spite of a disability, it is reported that, “An estimated 7,602,000 people, or 2.8% of the population 5 and over, have difficulty performing self-care activities, also known as Activities of Daily Living, such as dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home…” in the year 2005 (CPAS).

So, in essence, completing a marathon is something of an accomplishment. But why then, in conversation, does bring up the fact that a person has completed a marathon have a better ring to it than describing a lifelong commitment to health and fitness? In fact, some would even go so far as to pigeon-toe the latter into an “obsessive” group of people who are commonly known as “gym rats”, “fitness freaks”, or what have you.
In my opinion, a dedication to health, fitness, and eating right serves as a much more selfless act than that of completing a marathon. While that’s not to say that you can’t-do both, some find that level of dedication to be too time-consuming and therefore strive for the one-time glory of running a marathon. I’m here to say that if it comes down to a choice between the two, just take a look at the numbers and realize that you are REALLY not alone if you decide to run the marathon.



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