Sunday, 14 April 2013

Are Marathon Runners Children of Thatcher?

Two days ago I wrote a blog post on how running might be an antidote for the worse excesses of materialism associated with Thatcher. Very few people want to be thought of as materialistic and so as a runner this was a comforting tale to tell myself.

But two days, and a few chats with my wife, later I'm not so sure that running is a spiritual “cure” for the “evils” of Thatcherism ("evil" in inverted commas depending which side of the political divide you are). Maybe running instead of being an "antidote" to the materialism of the 80's is the perfect Thatcherite sport and a reflection of Anglo-Saxon individualism.

Let me explain why mass participation running might capture the spirit of the 1980’s down to a “T” (pun intended):

First of all mass participation running, like the London Marathon, took off in the 80’s, this happened simultaneously as the trade union movement declined.

Secondly running is all about the individual. You might have thousands of people descend on a single race but we are all running alone. It is the ultimate physical manifestation of the capitalist rat race and the (in)famous Thatcher misquote; "there is no such thing as society".

Where once we had tried to achieve things as a team (be that football, cricket or rugby) now we believe we can only achieve things alone (marathon running).

What matters to us is our individual times, our individual places. We might not think we are going to win but none of us want to come last.

Is it any wonder the French were suspicious of President Sarkozy's running? He admires Thatcher and his running was seen as part of his right wing, Anglo-Saxon leanings. Is it a surprise that it's Matthew Paris (an ex-Conservative MP) who has the fastest marathon time for any MP? (And let's not forget Seb Coe - although he's never run a marathon).

Running is all about the individual and surprise, surprise just as you had an ideology that championed the individual over the community marathon running took off!

So which of my blog posts is correct? What is the true nature of mass participation distance running and Thatcher’s legacy? An activity that grew up in response to Thatcher's materialism helping people fight against the era’s excesses or a sport that captured the zeitgeist of the age - there is no such thing as society and we are all individuals.

I want to have my cake and eat it too because the truth is they are both correct.

Running is about releasing the potential of the individual. It captures the aspirational nature in us all to be the best we can be. A nature that so many of Thatchers policies tapped into, possibly the reason she won three elections. But being the best you can be doesn't have to be materialistic and I believe that running combats this unbridled materialism like no other activity (as explained in my previous post).

The only thing I worry about now is whether running is really a middle way and instead of being a Thatcherite legacy is a New Labour phenomenon. We are all Blair’s babies now whether we like it or not! 

(The picture I've picked today is of Margaret Thatcher holding up three fingers after she won her third General Election - it's a purely personal choice because next Sunday I will be running my third marathon)

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