The Melbourne Marathon was held recently drawing more than 20,000 fit souls to a variety of distances. About 3,300 people tackled the zenith of races - the gruelling 42.195km marathon.
The marathon was borne from the legend of Pheidippides, the Greek soldier who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to pass on news that the Persians had been defeated. After the jog he was able to proclaim “We have won” before promptly dying.
While the distance has softened from the 240km Pheidippides apparently ran, and there were no reported deaths from the race, the pain was still plain to see.
So who is drawn to the challenge of a distance which is an effort to drive let alone run? Well, men dominate in terms of sheer volume making up three quarters of the field (so that's where all the men are ...). But there was not a lot of difference between the sexes with just 16 minutes separating the average time for men and women.
Women were evenly represented across all age groups with the majority of runners aged between 25 and 44. Nothing will slow these women down as evidenced by the second-placed female, Melbourne mother of two, Michelle Bleakley, who had only completed the last of her double mastectomy operations in January this year.
Among the males, it appears turning 30 brings on a desire for personal challenge with a spike in the number of runners between the ages of 30 and 39 representing some 40 per cent of the entire male field. Is this the result of a quarter-life crisis - not yet rich enough to buy the Ferrari and too old to go AWOL overseas? This can be explained by what I call the “quarter life spread”.
At 30, the body plays a cruel joke on you. You are now in a position where you don't have to make pasta the base for every meal (trust me, you get inventive), your weekends aren't taken up with pulling beers in the bar and you can now move on from the skateboard as your primary mode of transport. Ah, the good life.
And what does evolution hit you with - a slowing metabolism. A cruel joke which, when combined with this newly acquired lifestyle, and no compensating rise in activity levels results in what the experts call “long-term carb-loading and extensive tapering”, exercise jargon for stuffing your face and not doing much.
So you throw the 30th birthday party, engage in some further carbo-loading, then begin the self-reflection. You are now competing with the age group you just got kicked out of - for jobs, women and status. What else can you do but try and reclaim some alpha territory and run a marathon hoping the physical benefits, and status, will arrest the slide into the mid-life slump.
This spike is even more evident in the 35-39 age group, perhaps the last physical test before 40 after which the extent of physicality involves work-related tests of endurance. In our office, the kitchen is located exactly 22 steps from my chair. There are also physical benefits associated with having a family such as the repeated plastic swiping motion as you happily dish out money for school fees, the mortgage and doctor visits - although this arm action comes a little easier after years of practice with a stubbie.
Participation drops off evenly as the years take their toll until we reach the warriors, those aged over 65 where there are 28 men running for each woman, serious man drought territory. And while I was amazed by the men aged over 75 that completed the marathon, this quickly turned to envy after I discovered the equation they face post-race - almost three single women per man.
So what to make of this gender imbalance? Does the over-representation of men in the marathon this year explain why women have a life expectancy that grants them an extra five years of life? I think women see less of a need to conquer a feat extreme enough to kill the Greek hero Pheidippides - many have to deal with a physical challenge which would bring even the most alpha of males in the field to tears.
So men in your 20s, tick the marathon off your to-do list now. Don't wait until your 30th when the training runs become less about training and more about torture. Ladies in your 30s, the most seriously affected by the man drought, I suggest you take to the bitumen and follow the highway to love. And my advice to the three gentlemen aged over 75 who ran this year - skip the gym and hit the RSL. Congratulations to everyone who was struggling to walk the following Monday. And everyone that didn't feel the need, you are just carb-loading for next year right?!
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