Saturday, October 24, 2009

NY Times article questions slow marathoners

Note: unlike my normal posts, this is a bit of a rant. Feel free to skip if you're in the mood for a lighter post.

The New York Times recently wrote an article entitled, "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?". In the article, the Times asks the question of whether it's good for the sport that people are running marathons slower than they did 30 years ago.

In the article, they quote a statistic that the average marathon time for men was 3:32 in 1980 but 4:16 in 2008. And the number of marathon finishers has drastically risen from 143,000 in 1980 to 425,000 in 2008.

They quote a number of runners who say that people who walk a portion of the marathon are ruining our sport, including a quote from a running coach (shame on you!). Their point is that the bar has been lowered to the point where running a marathon isn't a big deal.

There really are few things that bother me these days, but this article really ticked me off. If you're interested, and I know you are, here's why:

Walking part of a marathon means you're not a real marathoner?

My favorite quote is from Julia Given, a 46 year-old marketing director, who thinks that if you're finishing by walking part of the marathon, then it means a lot less. Let's be clear, though, folks: she finished the marathon in 4:05.

Now 4:05 is a good time, but I finished 9 minute faster than her and I walked a good portion of the last 6 miles. Under her definition, my finishing the marathon is not that big a deal because I walked part of it. Well, when I was stretching and taking some post-marathon pictures, your elitist butt was still a mile from the finish. Who's a real marathoner now, Julia?

And what about the last marathon that I ran, in New Orleans, where I didn't stop to walk once. I finished in 4:53, but I ran the whole time. Does that mean that my first marathon where I finished almost an hour later was a "real" marathon because I didn't stop to walk at all?

Who died and made Julia the decision-maker for what's a fast and what's a slow marathon, anyway?

What's the harm in finishing slow?

The article talks about how finishing in 6 hours or more is a real problem because it takes away from the accomplishment of others. While I do understand that race directors have to have a time limit when the course will close, what's the harm in someone finishing slower than the large part of the pack?

We weren't all born with the body type to finish a marathon in 3 hours. And, some of us actually have to train in order to complete a marathon. I know it sounds crazy, but running 26.2 miles doesn't come naturally to most of us.

Does finishing slower mean that if you finished in 3 hours that your time doesn't mean as much? Nope. In case these idiots didn't realize, race times are individual and your finishing time is not an average of everyone else's finishing time. There is no harm to your 3-hour time because other people finished later than you. None.

What happened to our sport being one of acceptance?

Every time I'm driving and pass a runner, I get excited. I'm so happy that that person is out and hitting the road. I always clench my fist in victory and want to roll down the window to give them a high five. As runners, we are excited that others are runners, and we are a supportive community.

We accept that some runners are slower and others are faster. We accept that because it means that, if nothing else, people are getting out and being healthy. We accept it because one day we want to be faster and we can have a model to reach for. We accept it because running accepts us. It's nothing more than two sneakered feet hitting the ground one foot after another.

But this article isn't one of acceptance. It's an article that wants to put a divide between the "fast" and "slow" runners (however you define those categories). Embrace others enjoying the sport and embrace the fact that some people never thought they could run a marathon--EVER.

What's the harm in a "bucket list" item?

I bet a lot of people that finish a marathon never thought they could do it. They were told by gym teachers, friends, maybe family, that they'd never even run a mile much less 26.2 miles. But they put their mind to it and trained and they were able to do it. There is no feeling in the world like accomplishing something you never thought you could. Just watch the finish line between 4:30 and 6 hours. Look at the tears on the face of the people who were told they could never do it. And then watch them cross the finish line with their arms in the air because they deserve to be proud.

I never thought I would even run a marathon, much less finish one. But when I finished the New Orleans Marathon, I knew there was nothing in the world that I couldn't accomplish. Why would you ever want to stop someone from feeling that way?

At the end of my last marathon, I watched and cheered the people who were coming in at 5 hours and beyond. I remember saying to my dad that these folks are the real athletes. They have a drive to stay on their feet under an enormous amount of pain and just keep moving forward to get closer to the marathon. Their legs are heavy, their breathing heavy, but they want to finish just as much as I want to finish.

I have a tremendous amount of awe for anyone who finishes a marathon, no matter what your time. If the NY Times won't give you the credit you deserve, I certainly will.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One Year Later: 48 Miles in 48 Hours

A year ago today, I was starting my 48 Miles in 48 Hours ultramarathon weekend. As frequent (or even occasional) readers of this blog know, I find any opportunity to mention my ultramarathon, even when it's completely irrelevant.

I originally came up with the idea while running (which is where most of my ideas come from). I wanted to do an ultramarathon in a slightly non-traditional way. I wanted to break up 48 miles over two days with 8-mile segments. And I wanted a point-to-point course so that I could say that I actually went somewhere, as opposed to just running in loops.

I recruited other runners from my law school and set up a donation site to the American Cancer Society. I mapped out the course and determined logistics, and then, one year ago today, I started my journey.

As you'll see from my posts, things started out well and my first day ended well. The second day, well, that's when the wheels started to fall off the wagon. I started to get some pretty severe pain on the outside of my left foot, and my legs were incredibly heavy. I had to walk almost the last 13 miles, which made for an excruciatingly slow end.

By the end, I was hobbling from traffic light to traffic light because I just wanted it to be over. Because we hadn't hit the full 48, we had to run around a condo development to make sure that I got the full 48 in. I finished and took a picture of my Garmin watch. That picture is framed and is the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up and the last thing when I go to bed. It's what helps me get out of bed on cold mornings.

One year later, I couldn't be happier that I did the ultramarathon. At this point, I don't have any undying interest in doing another one, but I'm very happy I did the one I did. It reminded me that we can do anything we want if we put our minds to it, and work through some pain in the process.

I think about the ultra often, and from time to time, I drive part of the course I ran. I can still remember where we stopped and how we felt at each stop. I remember how tough the hills were and how narrow the shoulders of the road were. Finishing the ultra remains one of the lasting memories for me, and I'm so grateful that my body and mind allowed me to do it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Marathon winner disqualified for using iPod

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an article about a marathon winner who was disqualified for using her iPod during two miles of the Lakefront Marathon.

Jennifer Goebel originally finished in second place with a time of 3:02, but she was elevated to first place when the original winner, Cassie Peller, took a "rogue" water bottle from a friend rather than at a water stop. That water bottle cost Peller the win, and then the 2 miles of iPod use cost Goebel the win. Someone posted a picture of Goebel wearing an iPod between miles 19 and 21, and then the proverbial fit hit the shan.

The USATF recently modified their headphone ban, much to my happiness. Under the new rules, the race director:

may allow the use of portable listening devices not capable of receiving communication; however, those competing in Championships for awards, medals, or prize money may not use such devices.

Well, Goebel was competing for an award, medal or prize money (she won $500), so she falls into the category of someone who isn't allowed to use an iPod in an event.

She said that she only used it when she was bored because it helped to pump her up. I'm with you, Jennifer, but rules are rules.

It definitely stinks that her time was kicked out of the official results. Don't give her a medal or prize money--fine. But removing her time because she used an iPod for two miles? Seems a bit harsh.

That said, if I ever run a 3:02 marathon, I'm perfectly happy to give up all prize money and medals for using my iPod. You know, because it won't ever happen. Besides, I'd still have a big Garmin watch picture on my wall to remind me of my time.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Take It and Run Thursday: Spectator tips

A few weeks ago, as part of Take It and Run Thursday, KLETCO asked:

Now that we're heading into the fall and winter marathon seasons, and we've talked a lot about how to prepare for races, let's talk about spectators. What do you like and dislike from spectators out on a course? Are cowbells good or bad? Do you prefer to have someone waiting with food or gatorade? What tips can you give for people who are just out to watch the race and not participate?

My first marathon was a lonely, long journey because I missed having friends and family along to cheer me on. I talked about it in my post-race report, but the long and short of it is, I didn't see any real support after mile 10. It was just my dad there, so he couldn't get everywhere. And that made for a lonely run, especially during those late miles.

But that completely changed in my last marathon. I specifically ran a race close to friends and family so that they could be there to cheer me on. The marathon web site had a great spot for spectators which gave them directions to all of the different exchanges. And while I only expected to see them at exchanges 2, 3, and 4, they ended up getting to all of them which was a HUGE pick-up for me. Just knowing that they were going to be at different points gave me huge inspiration to run strong.

Get to as many locations as you can
While not all race web sites are as good as the Lehigh Valley Marathon site, ask race directors or volunteers where the best places are to watch the race. And try to get to as many locations as you possibly can. The more the runners see you, the happier they are, and the more energy they'll have. It doesn't make for a very relaxing day for you, but at least on that day, it's all about the runners.

Don't be offended
I saw my mom at mile 22.6 and I had to hand her my running pouch and get a change of shirt/hat. But my dad had my shirt/hat, so I had to yell questions to her and find out where he was (about a mile further up). I probably wasn't the most pleasant at that point, but she didn't mind and she understood.

And a mile later when I saw my dad, it was all business. I handed him my iPod, then threw off my shirt and hat and grabbed the other stuff from him. A brief exchange about my pace and then I told him I needed the purple gel thing and I was off. All business, but that's what you need sometimes. The exchanges aren't all going to be pleasant.

Ask what you should bring
Family/friends asked me what I wanted at the finish line. I had a huge craving for soft pretzels, so they brought that along, along with towels and my running bag. Just the simple act of bringing something that would taste good is very appreciated.

Ask questions, but don't overwhelm
When I finished, all I wanted to do was sit down. But, after my brain had played tricks on me after my first marathon, I wanted to make sure that I was doing OK mentally. As if it were on script, family/friends came over and congratulated me and then allowed me to stay quiet for a couple of minutes while I gathered my thoughts.

And then we talked about the race, my pace, etc., just to make sure I was lucid. Very much appreciated. And they had the patience to listen to the story about how miles 20-26 were so tough, etc., after I had told the story several times.

Signs are appreciated
When I woke up the morning of my last marathon, my friends had made a sign and put it above the toaster. It felt amazing to see that, and when they brought it along for the race, it felt even better. If you can make signs, do it. We love seeing them and so very much appreciate the effort. Also, the funnier the better.

If names are on our bibs, call us by name
The race bibs had our first names on them (great idea!), so people could yell out encouragement for us. Coming through some tough miles and hearing people scream your name to encourage you is an amazing feeling. If you see a name, call the runner by their name.

As runners, appreciate your spectators
So that was a list of what I appreciate from spectators. But I think we also need to appreciate the spectators themselves. At every exchange, I made an effort to clap for the spectators and volunteers and thank them for their energy. These people are standing out in the cold for hours at a time to offer encouragement. The least we can do is applaud them for their effort. The picture is of me clapping for spectators. You have no idea how much that encouragement means to us!