When I tell friends about going to track meets or getting up at ungodly hours to watch marathons online, I often get some variation of “But it’s so boring! They’re just going around and around/running for hours. How do you watch that?” I’m sure you’re all familiar with this phenomenon.  We all offer up the same “I dunno, it’s interesting to me, I guess” defense, in one way or another.

I’ve decided to take another tack lately, at least to open the door to an explanation. “Yeah, going to concerts is boring. They just do the same thing for hours.”

This is obviously stupid, of course. But think about the metaphor here. The drummer is just banging on drums for hours. The guitarist is just strumming along. The singer, just saying words in a musical way…for hours! Objectively, this is true. But anyone who enjoys concerts understands why you go. Every song has its own melody, its own nuance. Even within songs, there are twists and turns, new rhythms and chords, a solo here and there. The magic and the joy lies within those melodies, the beat, the changing rhythms, the mid-song key changes. Those words mean something different – a love song now, a revenge tale over here. Even when you’ve heard the song a hundred times before, each performance offers the possibility of a new insight, a new discovery, a new joy.

This is what running is. Every lap, every mile in a marathon, music is being made. There is art and science happening, right before our eyes. Runners adjusting to one another, forcing others to adjust, making decisions, revealing habits and fears and secrets about themselves with each surge or lead change. It’s a visual concert with a thousand possibilities every time you look at something new.

Today’s Boston Marathon is a wonderful example of this. New Zealand’s Kim Smith took an immediate lead and just poured it on from the start, stretching her lead out, mile by mile. One could say this was boring – just watching a skinny lady run by herself for over an hour. But every mile was a question. Will she continue to pull away? What is her plan? Is there a plan? Will the pack catch her – and if so, when? how? Will they speed up or will she slow down? On Twitter, there was discussion of her form; her arm motion is very ungainly, so it appears as though she’s flailing and suffering. But if you watched closely, you saw that it was an illusion; her shoulders and hips are perfectly still, the essence of good form. So it gave you something else to focus on…are her shoulders rising, is the set of her face changing?

Ultimately, she suffered some sort of calf injury that took her out of the race, but the degeneration as she struggled to fight through it – and the courage! – added even more drama. And then we were treated to a slugfest as Desi Davila and Caroline Kilel traded the lead, becoming more and more aggressive as the race wore on.

After two plus hours of watching women “just running”, we were treated to the answer to all the questions that had formed! The race came down to the last 200 meters, and at the end, neither woman had anything left to give, Kilel collapsing after winning the race and having to be taken to the medical tent. It was drama, love, passion, and pure guts at its most primal.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone. It’s like baseball, in that to truly get this, you have to start to understand the game before and within the game. Otherwise, a 0-0 pitching duel is boring – while someone who understands the subtexts realizes that every pitch is a story, every movement on the field contains a pathos revealing strength, weakness, opportunity. Without knowing those subtexts, it’s just guys throwing a ball at a stick and nobody scores.

Why draw all these comparisons? Because baseball is huge. People do understand the subtext. They do appreciate the pitching duel. And while a smartass comment and lengthy metaphor won’t convert the world, it serves to highlight the reality that to sell our sport to our friends and grow it, we need to teach the subtext. It can be done! Bit by bit, people do get it. Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay are our home-run hitters, and we can let them draw fans to the stadium…but we have to teach people, while they’re there, to appreciate every at-bat. We can build a new following for track, but we have to start thinking differently about how to explain it to those who aren’t already in the fold.