the care and feeding of a couch potato nation

Besides Katie Holmes and a few dozen elite runners, 38,000+ regular old folks from across the country (and the world) got up off of their respective couches on Sunday and took part in the New York City marathon. They participated, competed, strove, attempted, embarked, partook, engaged, and put one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. Almost 40,000 people did this! About the same number that sit at Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play roughly 80-90 games each season. Let me say it again… 38,000 actual everyday people, actually participating in a sporting event.

Unfortunately, in this country that’s facing an epidemic of obesity, where an estimated 66% of adults, 20% of kids 6-19 years old, and 14% of youngsters 2-5 are overweight or obese (National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) you’ll find little television coverage of the event to inspire you to join the active crowd. No, you could easily sit and watch 8 hours or more (a modest estimation) of pre- and post-game chatter for all of the various football contests taking place on Sunday, but the same network (NBC) carrying the Sunday night game could spare only 60 minutes in the mid-afternoon – right before the Professional Bull Riding championships – to show the top runners cross the finish line. That’s it.

And while these elites are truly amazing to watch from an athletic perspective, it’s the regular folks who might encourage someone to say “Hey, if he can do that, if she can run that far, so can I.” That’s what happened to me. Twelve years ago I stood at the finish line of the 100th running of the Boston Marathon, tossing PowerBars to runners for hours as they reached their final destination. I saw thousands and thousands and thousands of people who looked like me do this. And I slowly began to think, I can do this, too. And so I began to run a little more, run a little farther, and before I knew it I, too, crossed a marathon finish line (though alas, it wasn’t Boston – I’ll never be that fast).

The exercise physiologist in me will admit that running this distance is not a feat that everyone can accomplish, but the vast majority of us can indeed get up off the couch, stop being spectators, and get fit enough to run a 5K road race, or walk a 10 miler, or yes… maybe even run a marathon. The television program NOVA (on PBS) is currently running a program where they documented the transformation of 13 people, over a period of nine months, who went from being sedentary to running the Boston Marathon. They were supervised and trained by experts, but they were average, ordinary people who accomplished something many would believe extraordinary. Like a lot of those 38,000 folks in New York the other day.

They stopped watching and they started doing. It’s a great metaphor for life.

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