But mental health clinicians say that uncounted others will be afflicted with “marathon guilt,” a growing diagnosis in cities with successful marathons.
“The basic symptom of marathon guilt is the feeling of being sorry for not being a runner, but just not wanting to put forth the effort to become one,” explains a local psychologist. “They think they should run, but deep down they just don’t want to—and that creates overpowering guilt in some people, especially at marathon time when the accomplishments of so many successful runners are highlighted.”
Last year’s event led several dozen non-runners to seek treatment for marathon guilt, and officials expect even more this year.
“Some of these people are in pretty bad shape,” notes one clinical social worker. “I had one tell me, ‘I would really like to be a runner and get all the cheers and credit on marathon day—I just hate running.’ That’s the crux of the diagnosis right there.”
Clinicians say the key to treating the condition is to help people feel OK with not being a runner.
“We know that people should be physically active for good health, but it really isn’t necessary to train and run a marathon to be healthy. It’s fine to just walk around for 45 minutes a day.”
For especially tough cases of marathon guilt, the American Psychotherapy Association has published a book of photographs of runners collapsed from exhaustion, throwing up or sprawled out in agony during marathons.
“Those pictures are a real reality check to most people,” notes the clinical social worker. “Running is not all the glory of the crowds.
“When I’m working with these people, I turn [the Nike slogan] on its head—unless you want to, just don’t do it. And on marathon day, I advise them to stay home in their pajamas watching TV and eating Count Chocula.”
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