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.

12 comments:

Mel-2nd Chances said...

this article frustrated me so much. In a society where obesity is an epidemic, and kids are spending more and more time playing video games/computer/indoors, those choosing to do something physical, including a running a marathon in whatever amount it takes should be congratulated.

Runnrgrrl said...

we all make choices. the choice to train for a marathon is monumental. the completion of a marathon is a life-affirming victory demonstrating courage and tenacity in the face of daunting obstacles - most of those from others who can't move their asses 2 blocks without huffin and puffin. there is no cheating in running- it doesn't get much tougher. there are no shortcuts. real runners know the effort of mind and body that it takes to get out and train for months to run a marathon. time is immaterial. the medal that every finisher gets shines less than their spirit for having accomplished a dream goal. running is an open and as welcoming a sport as i've ever known. i have become part of a vast network of a supportive runners who will always rally behind those that try to run, as they train, as they recover from injuries or as they overcome their own self-doubt.

elitism has no role in running. running itself unites us.

Ashley said...

Most people get tired driving 26.2 miles, none-the-less running it... no matter the pace!

What happened to starting somewhere, anywhere when it comes to running & fitness & then working harder to improve your time?!?!

People are stupid & the person who wrote the article has probably never run a marathon. I'd be surprised if they ever attended a race at all.

MichelleJ said...

You said it right on!!! RIGHT ON!!

I was infuriated after reading this article and felt really upset thinking that people actually think this way, then I went to twitter and saw that NOBODY thinks this way if they are a real runner!!!

THANK YOU!!!

Paddy (ComaBoyRunning) said...

I totally agree with Mel and Runnrgrl.

A marathoner isn't someone who completes 26.2 miles. It's not the fact that you made it to the finishing line, it's the journey you took from the very first moment you believed in yourself enough to say "I can do it". At that moment you became a marathoner. Crossing the line - in whatever time - is the final step of that journey.

I've achieved things I never dreamed I could through running and have shared those adventures with some truely wonderful people around the world. It's brought me closer to my family, made me new friends and given me a belief in myself.

Everyone has a different story about why they ran and everyone who runs shares common fears and worries. Only those who have never run a marathon will ask "What was your time?". To me, the time is only secondary to the fact I ran did it.

Only the clock cares about the time you did, and it's moved on a second later. To everyone we know, we're forever know as "...the marathoner"

Paddy (ComaBoyRunning) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina Harris said...

Well said! I couldn't agree more. It's MUCH harder to stay on the course for 5, 6, or more hours than it is to finish in 3 or 4. EVERYONE should have a chance to complete a marathon, no matter how!

Jared Detroit said...

I agree that your time should not determine whether you're "worthy" of doing a marathon or not.

Joel Friel had a post about these stats of 6 hour marathon times and he thinks it's because of the push for "everyone" to do a marathon. No longer is it looked upon as a good accomplishment to run a fast 10k. People just ask you when you're going to step it up and run a marathon.

I say people run whatever you want to run but don't feel like you have to push yourself into a marathon too early. There's a lot to be said about doing a fast 10k or 13.1, which is probably better for your body as far as weight loss and overall physical health than doing a very slow marathon.

It all depends on what you like to do, though.

Teresa said...

The article made me really sad and just made me remember all the feelings of doubt I had when I first started running back in February. At that time, I couldn't run more than 3 minutes without walking. I kept at it, but it was hard enough with feelings of doubt from myself. Adding the feelings of others about my "running" just added to the difficulty.

Between April and September I spent many hours running, walking and training for a half marathon. It was tough, and one of the hardest things I ever have done. Not to mention, the time commitment was huge because to complete a 8 mile run took me nearly two hours.

For me to run the half in 3:01:20 was an amazing accomplishment, and just as big of an accomplishment for someone half my size to run it in half of the time. My accomplishment should not be looked down upon because I may never be physically able to run an 8 or even a 10 minute mile.

I respect running because it isn't about anyone but me. While I can see why my pace may take away from the overall race, I think my physical achievement greatly outweighs what it takes away from the race.

Thank you for being a runner that respects me and cheers me on. The support of other runners is such an inspiration and help to me. Thank you for being the kind of runner that will cheer on everyone, no matter how slow they are and how long you have to wait for them to finish. Lastly, thank you for putting your thoughts into words.

Petraruns said...

I agree with the comments above.

In addition I would like to ask the people questioned in the article - where do you draw the line? Clearly they draw it at some kind of time line - 4 hours? Arbitrarily chosen I think - athletically the differences between the 2:10 marathoners and everyone else are probably wider than those between the 4 hours and the 6 hour finishers.


I mean - these time limits are all so random aren't they? The people questioned in the article seem to feel that somehow there is a way to measure how "hard" someone's efforts are - judged by the outcome. As anyone who has ever run a marathon knows, marathons are always hard. The variables are seemingly endless. It's the challenge and the reason so many of us keep coming back to it.

One of the reasons I love the marathon is because it is a sport where the amateurs race with the elite. In London I could see the men elite heading to the finish on one side of the road as I headed towards the HM mark. That was thrilling and exciting - and I didn't get under their feet..

Finally - as someone who has run a 5:13 marathon (Chicago 2008) and a 3:45 marathon (Berlin 2009) I would suggest that anything is possible. Running with everyone in races made me believe that. My Boston qualifier would not have been half as sweet if it had been easily achieved, or frankly not seemed impossible previously.

Everyone deserves to participate in the magic of the marathon - if they do the distance, they're marathoners.

Marlene said...

Add me to the list of people completely infuriated by this article and some of the ignorant and arrogant quotes. Ugh.

I share your sentiments!

ShirleyPerly said...

Ah, yes, this is one of the reasons I don't participate in marathon running forums much as there is often a huge schism between what I would call old-school runner thinking and new-school runner thinking. From a purely business perspective, races and companies associated with running make more money if everyone is included and there have been studies that shown that, per person, slower athletes are more likely to spend money at expos buying clothes, shoes, souvenirs, etc. than faster ones. So it's very doubtful that anything is going to change with regards to slower participants being allowed in races. But there'll always be some who feel they should not because it's bad for the sport's image. Too bad for them.