or Breaking Through?
Kids and Ultrarunning
Brainwashed or Breaking Through?
Kids and Ultrarunning
by Claire Nana
by Claire Nana
When describing her class of incoming freshman, Evelynn M. Hammonds, the former dean of Harvard College used the term “overprotected and underprepared”. Hammonds went on to say that today students “are less prepared than ever” to face the demands not just of college education, but life itself. Hammond’s assertion was seconded by David McCullough Jr, in 2012, when delivering the commencement speech at Wellesley High School. Support for McCullough’s speech is not hard to find – his speech went viral, and he soon found himself writing a book titled, You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements. The point both Hammonds and McCullough were making – and it is one that has been well-recognized – is that kids today are missing something.
Or are they? According to a New York Times article, titled, “If Your Kids Are Awake, They Are Probably Online” kids spend as much as 7.5 hours per day on some sort of digital device. Yet what they see online, is another issue altogether. According to a 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) report, it’s mostly marketing.
And if you are wondering what kind of marketing, all you have to do is look at what can only be described as a childhood obesity epidemic to find your answer. You guessed it – it’s ads for food. And not the healthy kind. As the report notes, – an astounding 90% of all the food marketing kids see is for unhealthy food products. Collectively, this amounts to 25 million food and beverage ads that kids between the ages of two and 11 are exposed to on their top 10 favorite websites every year.
Not that the food marketers, themselves, think their products are unhealthy. After all, among their healthy classifications: Eggo Waffles, Fruit Loops, and PopTarts. “At which breakfast tables are these considered healthy choices?” asks Geoff Craig, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, of the Heart & Stroke Association.
The problem, as Emma Boyland, who headed up the WHO report, notes, is that food marketing to children in the United States – and globally – is largely unregulated. As Boyland points out, “The food, marketing, and digital industries have access to an enormous amount of information regarding young people’s exposure to high-fat, high-sugar food marketing online and its influence on children’s behavior, yet external researchers are excluded from these privately held insights, which increases the power imbalances between industry and public health” (Boyland, 2016).
What we now have is an “obesogenic” environment, where, despite bloated rates of childhood obesity worldwide, children are continuing to be bombarded by foods that we know are associated with weight gain.
It might be fair to say that kids today are brainwashed.
Yet not all of them. Colby Wendlandt is one example. Colby doesn’t spend much time online. He spends time running. But Colby doesn’t just run a little here and there. He started with marathons. And when that became too easy, he moved to the fifty mile races, and after that, 100 mile races. In fact, Colby did his first hundred at age 12, and had five under his belt by the time he was 14. But that wasn’t enough. Colby soon discovered six day races and completed his first at Icarus Florida UltraFest, running an astounding 361 miles, and claiming National records for the 48 hour and six day races.
Sadly, Colby’s race records have not yet been approved by the United States Association of Track and Field. But in the process, Colby’s accomplishments raised a larger issue.
Was it right to let him run?
To be clear, running was 100 percent Colby’s choice. While both his parents are accomplished ultrarunners, Colby plans, chooses, and executes his own races (his parents do drive him there).
Perhaps before we dive into that question, however, I should tell you a little more about Colby. Colby maintains a GPA consistently above 3.87 and with a handful of college classes already completed – he began taking them at the age of 14 – his goal is to get accepted into the United States Naval Academy putting him on the path to become a surgeon.
But the other issue is that Colby isn’t alone. Trevor Samuels is another standout. At age 10, he ran the 24 hour race at Icarus, covering over 50 miles. He, like Colby, made the decision himself, even scheduling a late race start due to a prior commitment at a football game. Trevor’s character – while certainly galvanized through running – doesn’t seem to be defined by it. After going without a haircut for three years, he recently donated his locks to charity.
Then there is Nikolas Toocheck. His goal was to be the youngest kid ever to run a marathon in every state and on each continent. Having recently finished, (achieving his goal), his father reports that he is happy and smiling.
Many people would ask why? Why would kids run this much? In Colby’s words, “To show other kids that they can accomplish whatever they want if they try hard enough.”
It’s hard to argue with that. But is it possible that running itself helps kids avoid Hammond’s description of being overparented and underprepared?
Ferriss, author of, Tools
of The Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and
World-Class Performers, calls the small (and sometimes, not so small) defeats that one faces in
athletic endeavors “microchallenges” that offer the fundamental tools for
coping with larger challenges later in life. While Ferriss’s preference was
wrestling, he notes that almost every outlier he interviewed for his book had
been involved in some form of sport as a child.
These are people, who as kids, strayed from the norm. Like Colby, Trevor, and Nikolas, they refused to follow the herd into online submersion, turning their cheeks to food marketers, obesity, and the beaten path.
They are the exceptions. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is: Why aren’t they the norm?
Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT frequently writes for professional organizations such as International Sports Science Association and Professional Development Resources and is the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards.