Twenty-Six Point Two

I like to run, but I really don’t like contemporary running culture. Part of this, I’m sure, has to be due to the fact that I’m a real dick, that I just have to find some way to make myself feel better than everybody else. But even when I take this into consideration, I still find that many aspects of running should probably be eliminated. But let me focus on one in particular.

Twenty-six point two. I’m referring, obviously, to the length of a marathon. Twenty-six point two miles. Isn’t that such a stupid thing to say? And yet marathoners can’t stop saying it. Twenty-six point two. Over and over again. Whenever somebody asks me how long a marathon is, the first thing that pops in my head is, OK, obviously this person doesn’t know much about marathons. Won’t it come across as really over-the-top to give the exact length, down to the point two? If I started a book club, and I picked some really long book to read, and somebody asked me how many pages the book is, wouldn’t it be a little crazy to be like, “Oh Moby Dick? Yeah, no big deal, it’s just five thousand four hundred and twenty six point two pages.”

How old are you Rob? Oh I’m twenty-eight point five years old. Just round down. Seriously. It’s still an accomplishment, running that many miles. Just because the extra point two miles are there doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to include them when talking about the marathon to every single person that makes the mistake of asking you about running. Think about it, we’re like one of four nations on the entire planet that measure marathons, or anything really, in the science-unfriendly non-metric standard system. You know how long a marathon is in Canada? Forty-two kilometers. Flat.

When else is anything ever measured in point twos? Not with money. “That’ll be ten point two dollars sir.” What is point two of a mile? I’m doing some basic arithmetic in my head and it’s what, two tenths? So it’s one fifth? Why not twenty-six and a fifth? I guess it doesn’t roll off the tongue like point two. In Star Trek sometimes they’d announce that they’d be at, “warp nine and rising. Nine point one. Nine point two,” before someone in engineering would yell up, “We’re pushing her as fast as she’s going to go Captain!”

The whole length of the race is totally arbitrary anyway. Some say it’s because of a long run some ancient Greek guy did to warn his king about an invading army. I read another claim a while back stating the reason for the point two was a little less glorious, something about the royal family of the UK wanting to get a better view of the finish line during the Olympic games a long time ago. Either way, it’s a long race. Why complicate matters by keeping the point two around? I think it should be a solid twenty-six. A bonus is that it’ll be a lot easier for someone to finally break that sub-two hour marathon.

But unfortunately, this will never happen. Why? Because if you get rid of the point two, running stores and running web sites are going to lose a ton of money selling t-shirts and bumper stickers that say nothing but “26.2.” If you see some dude walking around with a shirt that just says 26, you’re going to be like, what is that, is that from a sports team? Is that one of those Abercrombie & Fitch shirts with a printed random number? Nobody would get it. Similarly, if you see a Subaru sport utility wagon with an oval shaped 26 bumper sticker, you’ll be like, huh? Is that some sort of a parking decal? It loses a lot of its specialness.

There are a lot of things that bug me about running. There are the running utility belts, to which runners can attach several tiny squirt bottles to decorate their waists. I’m sure they’re super practical. There are the runners who do practice laps before a race. A big race, a very, very small race, it doesn’t matter. You’ll see people jogging, warming up. You going to win this time buddy? There are those jerks that, and this is one of my pet peeves here, after they cross the finish line, they start running backwards, back into the race, applauding those still yet to finish, encouraging everyone along, “Come on! You’re almost there!” But what they’re really doing, I can just tell, they’re thinking to themselves, “Wow, I can’t believe I beat all of these people!”

There’s a lot for me to get annoyed at. But nothing really gets under my skin the way twenty-six point two does. When runners say twenty-six point two, they slow down, make sure they’re enunciating really carefully. “Did you hear what I said? Twenty. Six. Wait for it. Point. Two.” It’s like all I can see is a close up of a mouth, really stressing the distance, and the point two. It’s a long race. Such a huge accomplishment. No, you don’t understand. It’s even longer. It’s point two longer than you thought.

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