Our oldest son Andy, swam, biked and ran his first triathlon this morning. It was a “novice course” just right for our 8 year old: a 150 meter swim, 3 mile bike, and a 1.5 mile run. My husband Paul was right there too, swimming and sweating side by side with our budding tri-athlete.

Every time Paul signs up for yet another one of these races, I ask him, “What’s stopping you from walking out the front door and running 26 miles right now? It’s free! I’ll even drive along side you with a cooler full of Gatorade and some Dixie cups! Why do you need to pay someone money to do that?”

“Because then I don’t get the cool t-shirt,” he quips. Very droll.

But really, there is an outstanding proliferation of triathlons, marathons, half marathons, and all sorts of other excruciating races these days. And it seems everyone is doing them! Not even people you would necessarily peg as athletes or even particularly fit. (Although, I admit, many do look pretty ripped.)

When I was a kid, I didn’t know anybody who ran marathons. It was unheard of. The only marathon I knew of was in Boston. Once a year we would watch the finalists on TV crawl and stagger to the finish line like stranded Bedouins groping for an oasis.

Back then those kinds of races were reserved for diehards only–the running fanatics. Even back in my high school cross country days, no one from my team even thought to sign up for a marathon, the distance of which killed ancient Greece’s best runner. We saw those poor lanky people in Boston suffering from exhaustion induced hallucinations and we thought, “No thanks!”

But now everyone is doing them. To be honest, I’m starting to feel a bit insecure, self conscious even, being the only thirtysomething within a 50 mile radius who doesn’t have a cool t-shirt peppered with sponsor logos and a Herculean feat emblazoned across the front.
What’s with all the crazy races? Is it our knee jerk reaction to our obesity epidemic? Is it because we are no longer 20 and we just have to prove that we still “got it?” (Come to think of it, I didn’t see any twentysomethings out there today. I guess they were all at home sleeping in, still confident in their own “it” factors.)

Is it because our Regular Jo neighbor flaunts his Iron Man t-shirt whenever he washes his car and we think, “Well, if he can do it…” and then we get our own t-shirt and the neighbor across the street sees us pulling weeds in it and thinks, “Well, if she can do it…” and it all just snowballs?

But I see the appeal: set a goal, train like crazy, then the day of the race, enjoy dozens of people whooping and hollering, shouting words of encouragement at every grueling turn. And the finish line? What an experience! Andy’s friends and coaches were screaming his name, cheering like crazy. Andy doused his dad with water, they high fived, pumped their fists, the whole bit! What a rush!
So there’s another race coming up in August. Those Dixie cups full of icy Gatorade are calling out to me. I want to hear people chanting my name. I want to pump my fists too. I want the cool t-shirt.

I think I’ll sign up.

But notice there are no “mommy-thon” t-shirts. That’s because it’s all training, no finish line.