21st Century Self-flagellants, or My Problem with Urban Marathons

So I’m in Atlanta’s Arts District on a Sunday morning making my way to Georgia Tech. Easy enough, just a few miles, right? Wrong. Traffic is way backed up on a Peachtree and on the campus. A wreck, a disaster? No way.
Just another urban marathon.
I don’t understand these things on any level.

I don’t understand why, when there are parks and tracks available, people choose to pound asphalt for 20 miles. The claim that by doing so they are maintaining fitness and thus contributing to the betterment of society by reducing health care costs doesn’t convince me: what I see are many knee replacements-to-be. Costly things, orthopedic breakdowns.

I don’t understand why their desire to run on city streets trumps the convenience of those who are using those streets for their purpose: transport.

Now, I’m all for pedestrians and cyclists. I love to walk in cities. And when it’s my turn to wait for the traffic light to change, I wait. The pace of my stroll is interrupted, it’s true, but I don’t expect you to care about that. And when the light favors me, I don’t care about how big a hurry you are in. I expect you to wait for me.

But what about parades? Do they incur my wrath? No. There are several big differences. They don’t go on for 20 miles. They involve vehicles that require streets. They give pleasure to those who choose to watch them pass. They have a predictable stop time.

That’s the really annoying thing about these urban marathons. The race is won in the first hours, but the runners run, or walk, or stagger on. And on.

And on and on and on. All must stop to witness this exercise in masochism.

This must have been what it was like in the Middle Ages when self-flagellants took to the streets.

But it’s for charity, you object. Let’s think this through. Let’s say this is one of those races where you get people to sponsor you by the mile.  Imagine if when you tell your sponsors that this marathon will take place on a track field, they are willing to sponsor you a $1 a mile. Now, imagine coming back next day and telling them you’ll be running through the city streets instead. Do they stop and say, wait, wait, in that case let me sponsor you $5 a mile? I don’t think so.

Then there are all the police employed to stop traffic at green lights. Either they are on duty or off duty, agreed?

If they are off duty, then their pay must be coming out of all that money the virtuous runners are raising. Run on a track=little or no police to hire=more money for charity, right?

If they are on duty, police are being paid (overtime?) out of tight, strained city budgets to force all of us to indulge these runners’ exercise in collective inconsideration. Please let this not be so. If it is, that means this charity endeavor is taking money from the citizenry at large, and we all know that the first things to go when monies are low are services for those who need them most. Taking from the poor to give to the poor just doesn’t make sense to me.

So other than complaining to you, what should I do? A little research, of course. Another topic to add to my growing list. I’ll start by looking up how these folks get away with inconveniencing a city populace and if there are any metropolitan areas that have just said no to this nonsense.

Then I’ll get back to you — some day.


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