Charlie's Blog: Why They Do It


Why They Do It

Not everybody is going to run a marathon or do a triathlon. It's not necessary to do that to be in good health.

I never thought the day would come when I would be using a quotation from Michelle Obama in this space. But when you are right, you are right. You don't have to run a marathon or an ultramarathon or a triathlon or any other sufferfest to be healthy. In fact, you will probably be healthier if you don't. This leaves a question. Why do they do it?

When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, mountaineer George Mallory famously quipped, "Because it's there." The line was probably uttered in exasperation at the question, but it has since taken on this mythic quality of philosophy and Zen mentality. People who compete in extreme endurance events like the Ironman Triathlon probably have the same exasperation and the same answer. They do it because it is there. Unfortunately, this answer is garbage. It is a deflection from the real answer.

The real answer for why these people do these things is because they are typically white collar people with a sneaking suspicion that what they do for a living is a con job on themselves and the public. As this article in Outside puts it, “By flooding the consciousness with gnawing unpleasantness, pain provides a temporary relief from the burdens of self-awareness.” These people seek out pain to the point of kidney failure. What would provoke such masochism?

The article offers the argument that white collar participation in endurance sports is prevalent because of the costs involved and the time. You need free time and money to do these sports which blue collar people don't seem to have. This simply isn't true. Blue collar people manage to pay for boats, hunting rifles, and golf clubs. They also have as much or more leisure time than white collar professionals. This is a nonsensical argument.

The real question is this. Why do blue collar people tend to not do extreme endurance events? That answer should be obvious. Their lives are endurance events. Go work on a landscaping crew or become a lineman for the electric utility. Most blue collar jobs require a level of physicality, endurance, and tolerance for pain that is completely missing from white collar jobs. When a blue collar worker gets off work, he isn't looking to do a century ride on his bicycle. He is looking for a cold beer.

White collar jobs are easy. Sitting in an office all day makes you flabby and unhealthy. The farmer doesn't have this problem. This is why the office worker has to hit the gym to stay healthy. A large health insurer in my state has an impressive health and wellness center in their complex. You will also see many of the employees walking laps in the parking lot after work. This exercise makes up for what these jobs lack in comparison to blue collar jobs. This is also all you need to stay healthy as Michelle Obama pointed out.

The endurance sports are not filling a physical need but a psychological need for these people. You could say they want to feel a sense of achievement except this argument is nonsense. The vast majority of non-professional athletes have no chance at winning these races. They compete mostly to just finish these things. Additionally, you should feel some sense of achievement in your profession unless your profession is nothing more than being an economic parasite.

What these white collar people want is the feeling that blue collar workers feel every day of their lives. The obvious answer would be to quit the white collar job and become a welder or something else gritty. But this would mean the loss of income and status. It's just easier to pay out some dough, train minimally after work, and do an Ironman one Saturday. The problem is there is nothing socially redeeming in this path. These things are done out of penance for their professional sins. They probably have no idea that they are doing this for this reason because that would require self-awareness which these people typically lack.

I think this masochism is stupid especially if you participate to the point of organ failure. There is no virtue in that insanity whatsoever. A better strategy would be to fire the lawn service and cut your own grass each weekend. Fire the maid and clean your own house. Wash your own car and change your own oil. Go pick up trash on the highway for the litter campaign. Make your life a bit harder than it is now.

The sickest part of this madness is that these people actually believe they are better than the rest of us because of their endurance sports. There is a quiet dignity in being a blue collar worker. You feel each day that you did something hard and tangible that contributed to the world. These endurance clowns prance around in Speedos and put their numbers in their training logs online. It takes a high level of effeminacy to do that sort of thing.

Endurance sports and events for the hoi polloi are a vanity for people lacking self-awareness and a gnawing suspicion that what they contribute to the world is ultimately worthless. That is the bottom line. I doubt these white collar types will ever find that self-awareness.