Ableism in the media ‘Anyone can run a marathon’

Earlier today I was watching the London Marathon. The commentator repeatedly emphasised that ‘anyone can run the London Marathon’ all you need is ‘enough training and enough belief’.

I let this sink in for a bit and decided that I couldn’t stay quiet. I was encouraged by a friend to share what I thought.

What absolute rubbish. Quite frankly it’s insulting.

At first thought it’s simply harmless encouragement and inspiration… but if you think about it, what that statement actually says is ‘If you can’t run a marathon it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough or don’t believe enough’.

This ‘harmless inspiration’ felt like a punch in the face me. I try my absolute best to be fit and healthy and I’d love to be able to run a Marathon but it simply isn’t going to happen. I posted on Facebook and I was soon inundated with people who felt the same way, that statement cut deep for all of us who will never be able to do it, no matter how hard we try.

Let me give you an example of why I’ll never run a marathon.

My boyfriend is a runner, he loves obstacle races and as part of his training he often goes for runs. At the end of one such run he arrived home and I stood up to meet him. Our heart rates were the same. We both had heart rates well over 100bpm. Him from running 10km and me from standing up for 30 seconds. I was tachycardic from standing. Just let that sink in.

Combine the tachycardia with crippling joint pain, migraines that render me totally un-responsive, daily joint dislocations, skin that blisters in shoes I’ve worn for years and fatigue so severe I sometimes cannot speak and you’ll have a rough idea of why I don’t ever think I’ll run a marathon.

I am not alone and these are not the only reasons for not running marathons. Plenty of people go about their daily lives dealing with much more than meets the eye.

For those of you who are able to run a marathon or even run for a bus, congratulations on all your hard work but please don’t underestimate how lucky you are.

Saying that anyone and everyone can run a marathon minimises the monumental effort put in by every single one of the people who cross the finish line. It also highlights how little thought goes out to people with complex or hidden impairments. It simply didn’t occur to this chap that there are people like me and my friends who can’t run.

This, I think, is the main problem facing people like me. We’re invisible, an after thought. If we’re thought of at all its stereotypes and media misinformation. Casual ableism is the norm.

You might be thinking now of the wheelchair racers you saw crossing the finish line, AWESOME. What a fantastic achievement and YAY for media coverage of adaptive sports, Adaptive athletes like these impress me endlessly…

But what about the people who wake up every day not knowing if they’ll be able to walk or not, to eat or not, to speak or not. Not knowing if they’ll make it to work or the gym or if the pain will stop them before they even get going…

Those people impress me even more. To keep going with life no matter how uncooperative your body is, that is the longest and hardest marathon there is.

I hope this has given you something to think about, I also hope it’s made you realised that it’s OK not to run marathons!
As always questions and comments are welcome, and to everyone who ran today (and all the other days of the year) well done!


11 thoughts on “Ableism in the media ‘Anyone can run a marathon’

  1. Just seen this post and so glad I came across it!! I actually typed out a blog post too at the time because I was so incensed but then didn’t finish it, and then the time had kind of passed and I felt I was perhaps overreacting. But what I found particularly frustrating was the fact that these sort of events involve a lot of charity runners- it’s the one time when people with significant illnesses and disabilities you’d think would be at the forefront of people’s minds. And yet even the commentators commentate in such a way that it’s clear they’re forgetting all the people for whom those people are running (because most can’t do so themselves!!). It really is so frustrating.. Jess xx

    1. Yes!! You’re totally right about the charity runners too! It could be a great opportunity to raise some real awareness if done properly! 😀

  2. Fantastic post Jo! As soon as I hear that comment I thought about all the people who were being forgotten, their daily struggles being dismissed as them just not trying hard enough. I know I’ll never be able to run, or even wheel in a marathon. I’m ok with that. As long as I’m able to get out of bed & have some level of normality to my life, that’s an achievement. I think society tends to see us one of two ways. Either as inspirational because we get out of bed most days & forge ahead to make the best of each day or as lazy people who just don’t try hard enough. Why can’t we just be seen as people. Yes we have struggles that affect us daily, but many people have difficult struggles in their lives. They aren’t so readily judged as being inspirational or lazy. Xx

    Tania | When Tania Talks

    1. I’m the same as you in that respect, I can’t run a marathon and thats ok. And the inspiration p0rn is so ridiculous! People are all different, we can all do different things and thats ok! X

  3. I enjoy running and have run a few marathons and yet totally relate to your post. When I ran my first marathon I had a number of people comment that it was symbolic that I’d overcome my disease. I’ve also had people say to my face that it must mean my treatment is working, as if it required no effort on my part to get to the finish. I’ve used running as a way to raise money for the rare disease community but have since felt that promoting that I can run let’s people believe that everything in my life is fixed and somehow makes me an unworthy recipient of “charity” (even when I’m not raising money for myself). Also when I tell friends I’m unable to run at the moment it somehow leads them to believe I was irresponsible to be running in the first place and I’m put out for good reason. Anyways, rather frustrating but thanks for sharing your thoughts on some related topics.

    1. Thats a really interesting perspective, thanks for sharing! How odd that appearing to do well affects peoples perceptions of your charity worth.. I also get elements of well maybe you should have done it in the first place, and a lack of understanding about variable health. This puzzles me slightly since everyone has good and bad days it’s just that for some of us the good and bad are much more extreme!

  4. Although I understand where you’re coming from, and there’s no way I could run a marathon either, I think we have to take things with a pinch of salt and stop being so sensitive. The aim of the article was obviously to inspire those who could do it to try and be more healthy and that is a good thing. It wasn’t a deliberate slur against those who never can do it. I’m sure if those of us with hidden illness were honest with ourselves, we never would have thought about ablism and if what we said was PC towards it before we got ill. I didn’t. Ablism is a word I first heard only a few months ago! Quite simply this article was not meant to belittle the sick, it was meant to encourage more people towards exercise and it should be taken that way. Also, many who run marathons do so for charities that often directly help us so cut them some slack.

    1. I can see where your coming from, the only reasons I wrote this post was becasue so many people on facebook agreed with my status and felt the same way. I have heard from a wide variety of people who were annoyed with the commentators wording, not just people with invisible disabilities but runners and average-joes too. I tried to explain in a way that sees both sides of the story and my hope was that this post could be generalised to more than just race commentary. It’s a post designed to make people think. What one person percieves as harmless can be deeply upsetting to others. I’m speaking for the ‘others’ with this post.

      1. I’m putting another point across, nothing more. I’m one of the severe ones now who has very few good days and I could choose to take offence but I would only be hurting myself so I just take it on face value.
        Awareness is one thing but I would hate it to turn into reverse discrimination as some other PC things have. That would hurt our cause more a then people would really have a reason to dislike us. The ole ‘She only got the job because they (the employer) need to meet their quota of disabled…’ and so on.
        I say, Live and let live.
        Take care Sweet x

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