On Facebook, I complete the circle of life every day by reading the status updates of friends and acquaintances. Births, weddings, deaths, more births: They're all there on display. Lately, it seems, there's a new element of living that I'd previously neglected. I'm talking about races, the running kind—anything that ends in "-athlon," "-K" or red-faced racers clutching their stomachs as they breathlessly pass a finish line.
Ostensibly, it's both the method of choice to raise money for every known charity and the trendiest way to announce a transition from out-of-shape blob to exercise hound. Watching from the sidelines, it's a little bewildering. Let's be clear: I'm 30 pounds overweight, so I can't lecture about making healthy life changes. And raising awareness about a disease or honoring a loved one is laudable enough. But I peer at such status updates, fascinated by the torture so many friends love to inflict upon themselves, in part for bragging rights. Casual party conversations now run like so: "Which race are you doing this spring? I'm starting with the Briar Chapel 5K." "Aren't they changing the course for that? I'm still recovering from my carb-loading for the 6-mile training run I did yesterday for the Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon. It was brutal."
Honestly, I've never liked to run or understood the impulse. Why would I want my ankles to burn, my lungs to scream, my hands to constantly fight the northward journey of my shorts and underwear? Does running a race signify conquest over these pains? If so, I get the same feeling of victory by not experiencing them. Sure, when I lose weight, I feel victorious. But I don't celebrate by testing my endurance. I'd rather take a slice of that fig and hazelnut torte for my reward. I'm much more inclined to support a cause by attending a big-tent event full of food and wine. Through drinking samples of parsnip beer and eating bites of heirloom bruschetta, I have raised funds for SEEDS and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. Want to know a secret? I would have attended those events with or without a charitable cause.
The cynic in me wonders if it'd be kosher to run that 10K or enjoy Farm to Fork's chef-and-farmer pairings without raising funds for a cause. Are competitions or festivals still held if they don't serve a nobler goal than pleasing taste buds or producing endorphins? Or does it somehow count more if donations are collected because someone served roasted pumpkin bisque in Dixie cups or crossed a finish line rather than wrote a check? I'll keep giving money to WUNC if they stop offering travel prizes. Shouldn't I be able to enjoy myself once in a while without a donation, too?
I don't know, but Facebook tells me a friend just signed up for the Tough Mudder endurance competition, proceeds to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Or maybe it was the Blue Ridge Relay? What I do know is that all these shots of black numbers stuck to sweat-wicking shirts make me nostalgic for profile pictures of ultrasounds.