The media can’t resist highlighting young daredevils who barrel down snow-covered cliffs, surf off the top of 30-foot waves or plummet toward earth wearing gear that is barely aerodynamic.
I’ll concede that the adrenal rush of surviving a leap off a rock face followed by a dazzling run through powdery snow probably is greater than sprinting to the finish in your first marathon to break the three hour mark. A photo of me doing an amazing gyration high above snow and rock would certainly draw more comment than one of my sweaty body lunging across a finish line.
The truth is the thrill sports can’t declare the word “extreme” as exclusively their own; the lifelong runner also deserves the label.
To be considered an “extreme sport,” apparently there must be some risk attached. Note how often the location of these sports have names, like Deadman, Suicide, the Widowmaker, Killer or Kamikaze. Summoning the courage to risk one’s life in a daring athletic move isn’t something most of us would be able to pull off.
So how can I possibly equate the exploits of some youth wearing dayglo, skin-tight outfits with the legions of folks jogging their daily miles and the thousands of dedicated road racers? It comes down to longevity and quiet determination – two traits notably absent among most extreme sport enthusiasts.
The high-risk nature of extreme sports that distinguishes these activities also is their downfall. With each attempt the athlete will succeed or face a strong likelihood of serious injury or death. Few are able to beat those odds for 10 years much less 20 or 30. Experiencing a couple crashes either physically incapacitates them or erodes their will to continue. In other words, extreme athletes, after a relatively short career, are given an excuse to retire.
Runners don’t usually have excuses to retire. An extreme athlete can rationally say, “I can’t fly down mountains any more because my damaged (knees, back, head or whatever) won’t let me,” or “I have a (family, job or whatever) so I can’t jeopardize that to do this risky stunt.”
Runners, on the other hand, only occasionally having legitimate physical reasons for quitting or leave the sport by choice. It’s not an easy decision since virtually every study done on running shows that it does healthy things for your body and mind.
Even extreme athletes in their prime can make legitimate excuses for not participating based on not having the time to get to the site, not having the necessary equipment or the money to afford an outing. However, virtually everyone is only a few minutes and/or a few feet away from a running opportunity.
It is the day in and day out, year after year, routine of running that makes it extreme. While running is enjoyable, hard training, an aging body and inclement weather may make any given run a challenge.
It takes willpower to crawl out of bed instead of turning off the alarm to get another hour of sleep. It is not always easy after working all day at a job to head out for a run, rather than turning on the TV and sinking into the easy chair.
These are choices that must be made every day year after year. Yes, when running becomes a daily habit for a lifetime, that’s when it becomes an extreme sport.
The extreme athlete has an exciting existence, mastering skills that will let him take chances with his life for a short period of time. However, the extreme runner develops a lifestyle and sets a plan that will keep him running for the rest of his life.
Dave Foley, former editor of Michigan Runner Magazine, is extremely happy to be able to run every day.