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.