Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I have aspirations to one day complete a marathon. Not because I'm some great athlete, but because I'm a runner. I enjoy running, and the challenge of training and finishing a marathon appeals to me greatly.

However, if someone told me that since I'm not an elite athlete, I wouldn't be allowed to register for the event, I would be sad. There's no way I can ever be fast enough to compete with the elites--even if I trained for years, I might barely make it to the middle of the pack.

The New York Times has an article about those rail against "plodders" in marathons: folks who finish in six hours. They laugh at that finish time being a joke and demeaning to the challenge of the marathon. Most individuals in a marathon event are, however, these so-called plodders. As the article points out, they are who funds the events through their entry fees.

John Bingham, a runner who is known as the Penguin, is often credited with starting the slow-running movement, in the 1990s. “I have had people say that I’ve ruined the sport of running, but what I’ve been trying to do is promote the activity of running to an entire generation of people,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Bingham added: “The complainers are just a bunch of ornery, grumpy people who want the marathon all to themselves and don’t want the slower runners. But too bad. The sport is fueled and funded by people like me.”

That's how I interpreted those against slow runners: they are just complaining. There are essentially two runners in each marathon: the one who is competing against others, and the one who is competing against herself. And I feel that there's nothing wrong with either type.

People have different motivations for running the marathon. The most important thing is that they're running. They have to train to be able to go the distance, and even if they accomplish the 26.2 slowly, they still did it. I find attitudes like the following horribly elitist:

“If you’re wearing a marathon T-shirt, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” Given said on the eve of this month’s Baltimore Marathon, where vendors were selling products that celebrate slower runners. One sticker said: “I’m slow. I know. Get over it.”

“I always ask those people, ‘What was your time?’ If it’s six hours or more, I say, ‘Oh great, that’s fine, but you didn’t really run it,’ ” said Given, who finished the Baltimore race in 4:05:52. “The mystique of the marathon still exists. It’s the mystique of the fast marathon.”

If you ran/walked 26.2 miles, you ran a marathon. And with elite athletes running 26.2 in almost half Given's time, who is she to say that she really "ran" the marathon while someone two hours slower did not?

I suppose I'm an inclusive runner because I'm not very fast. But I can admire someone for taking up the challenge to run 26.2, to dedicating to the training to be able to accomplish that goal, and to achieving it no matter their final time.

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