Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Elitist ruining running?

I was just sent a link to an article titled "How Oprah ruined the marathon"

It kind of ticked me off. The running elitist writing it, claiming that races are races and meant for the fast. Oprah and John Bingham didn't ruin the marathon, they started on the path to saving a nation.

What good is it to a country, to have a few people who are faster, if the rest of us have to stay home to watch them run on TV. The couch potato nation, brought to you by elitists who would rather bar slow runners from running races.

Too bad, Mr. I'm not fast. I'm not completely a fan of the Penguin, I do the best I can with the time I have, but I also don't have the time to log 100 miles a week, or even 30 miles a week.

I run for two reasons.
1. It's a stress relief. Nothing that I have done relieves the stresses in my life and makes me feel better about how things are going than running does.

2. To stay in shape. Running burns more calories faster than any other form of exercise I do.

That's right, I don't run to win races. It's not that I wouldn't like to win, it's just that for me, the choice is between being good at running faster and sucking at the rest of my life, or being good at my life and sucking at running. I choose the latter.

Why then do I run at races? That must be the real question. Because if I know I'm going to be slow, and I know I'm not putting in the time to be fast, there must be some reason to run races. There is. I run races to meet other runners. My training is done alone, I don't have the opportunity to run with others very often. I don't even have the opportunity to meet other runners and talk about it very often, but when I show up at a race, I know I'll meet people who share common interests. I run races to see how fast I can run that distance that day, and to meet people. Races know this. That's why there are post race parties. If races were all about being elite then participating would not earn marathoners a medal. They would only give them out to people who qualified for Boston, or met some other arbitrary time goal. However races are about covering a distance. That's why anyone who completes a marathon gets a medal, they completed the distance and met the requirements of the race officials.

All these slow people taking over the race courses are good for racing. Despite the fact that average times are down, the fastest people are still faster. Sure they aren't on pace with the world's elite, but America's fastest are still setting American records. What's more important though is the number of people who run instead of sitting at home watching TV or at a bar drinking. Oprah and John "the Penguin" Bingham may have lowered the average time of races, but they have raised the number of participants and average health level of those people.
Interestingly, the last year an American born male won a marathon was 1983. This was at a time when runners from other countries weren't competing full scale yet. As soon as they started, America fell from the top and have never returned. It's not that American running was dominant. It's that American running was practically a monopoly. Those great late 70's runners are mostly coaches for today's elite runners. Those same men who knew how to be great then, haven't given America another marathon elitist. The problem is that they themselves were never really dominant, they won by default, by lack of competition.

For those American running elitists, if you really want to get America back into running, hire a coach from one of the countries that kicks our ass. Stop babying the elite we have with old elite that never were, and give them real coaches that will push them to the limits they should be pushed to be elite.

Me, I'd rather keep going down the path of America being more fit overall than America happening to win a few marathons.