Here's an article from MSN that really bugged me: How Sluggish Newbies Ruined the Marathon. Written by Gabriel Sherman, it begins:
Among autumn's sporting rituals there is one tradition that fills me with mounting dread: the return of marathon season. If you've been to the gym or attended a cocktail party recently, you know what I mean. Chances are you've bumped into a newly devoted runner who's all too happy to tell you about his heart-rate monitor and split times and the looming, character-building challenge of running 26.2 miles. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a slovenly couch potato who abhors exercise. I'm an avid runner with six marathons under my New Balance trainers. But this growing army of giddy marathon rookies is so irksome that I'm about ready to retire my racing shoes and pick up bridge.
Well, I've got eleven marathons and two 50Ks under my feet, and I'm not irked. Here's what Sherman finds so troubling:
Today, the great majority of marathon runners set out simply to finish. That sets the bar so low that everyone comes out a winner. Big-city marathons these days feel more like circuses than races, with runners of variable skill levels—some outfitted in wacky costumes—crawling toward the finish line. The marathon has transformed from an elite athletic contest to something closer to sky diving or visiting the Grand Canyon. When a newbie marathoner crosses the finish line, he's less likely to check his time than to shout, "Only 33 more things to do before I die!"
Bold emphasis is mine. Oh, the horror of having everyone feel good! Oh, the horror of people who took seven hours to finish feeling as if they have accomplished something! What's next? Overweight people might find love and sexual fulfillment without feeling guilty about cellulite?
Sherman continues with this incredibly annoying rant:
Running was once a purist's sport—you needed only to lace up your shoes and hop out the door. No longer. During a recent run in Central Park, I dodged groups of marathon trainees festooned with heart-rate monitors and space-age breathable fabrics that looked like they'd emerged from some NASA lab. Along with this profusion of gear, a constellation of coaches, massage therapists, chiropractors, and other gurus now peddle services to the marathon masses. In New York, the Bliss Spa offers the "Cold Feet" treatment, a one-hour procedure that "uses alternating hot and cold therapies to help circulate and deflate aching, swollen feet and puffy ankles." Two groups that Bliss says deserves this kind of pampering: marathon runners and pregnant women.
Hey, he even worked in some misogyny! Marathoners aren't real athletes; they're really just like pregnant women. Is that crack supposed to make men doubt the wisdom of training for a marathon?
Gabriel Sherman doesn't list his times, but I'll happily list mine. I've done nine road and two trail marathons. On the road, I've never failed to break four hours. My worst time was a 3:57; my best a 3:13:51. (Here's the proof, scroll down to the 30-34 age group, which is what I was in when I ran the time). That time put me in the well within the top 10% of all finishers. In my thirties, I've also run a 18:44 5K and a 38:49 10K. Those times may not make me a prize-winner, but they're certainly in the range of being solidly competitive.
I say this not to brag, but to make it clear that I'm not a "sluggish newbie." And I am not in the least troubled by the slow trotters who make up the majority of marathoners these days. I don't see why Sherman ought to be troubled, either. If we're faster, then these folks are behind us. It's not as if they're in the way, blocking our path to a water stop at mile 18! If I run a 3:50 marathon (which is what I generally do these days, largely because I don't do speed training any more), I can get home and shower and put my feet up while the slower folks are still out on the course. And hell, my hat is off to them, as Sherman's should be. I only suffer for three hours and change -- the newbies to whom he refers are out there hurting for twice that long.
I've spent years and years around very competitive and talented athletes. I've worked with cross-country coaches and ultra-marathoners; I have friends who have qualified for the Olympic trials in distance events. To a man and to a woman, I've never heard them sneer at the slower recreational athletes who only long to finish. Real runners don't judge and condemn others. Our reasons for running are myriad, and running to set a personal best time is never the only, or even the best, reason to run. If some folks want to trot and sweat for six hours so that they can say "I ran a marathon because I've always wanted to", how does it diminish my accomplishment in running the same race significantly faster? Heck, Sherman ought to love the slow ones -- they make those of us who do run faster look better, as we finish in a noticeably higher percentile as a result. I'll likely never run 3:13 again, but even these days, I finish in the top quarter of all male finishers most of the time. That's due less to my own skills than to the plodders and the pounders who walk and jog for hour after hour. I'm grateful for them.
Running has brought me tremendous joy and fulfillment. It is a source of incredible pleasure in my life. I judge myself not by my weight, or whether my six-pack is defined, or by my latest time, but by the amount of delight I take in my workouts. I try and bring that peace and happiness home from the roads and the trails, and I try to make it manifest in my relationships with others. Running is like that for many people, whether or not they ever run a marathon, or whether or not they ever break four, five, or even seven hours. Gabriel Sherman ought to know that. As a fellow runner, I'm deeply disappointed in his attitude. He doesn't speak for anyone I know.
Oh, and he wears New Balance too. The only thing worse would be Nike. Asics or Saucony or Montrail, baby.