All I want to do is drink beer and train like an animal.
- Rod Dixon

I'm feeling rough. I'm feeling raw. I'm in the prime of my life.

The Lifestyle: Don't Slow Jerk The Marathon

The New York Times, that endless source of clueless intellectual musings on sports, recently published a rather pointless but nonetheless discussion-provoking article on slow marathoners entitled: Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?.

Let me summarize and spare you the effort of reading it. More and more people are doing marathons but the average times are getting slower. Faster marathoners are becoming indignant claiming that the slower marathoners are devaluing their accomplishments and going so far as to say that people who are walking 6+ hours marathons have not actually "done" the marathon. There are some bullshit statistics I'm leaving out but that's the general idea. This quote from Adrienne Wald, 54, marathoner and the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, sums up the elitist argument pretty well:

It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours ... It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

Since I'm a cold-hearted elitist bastard as well as a generally laid-back guy I have been split on this idea. On one hand, who cares? Let everyone run, let everyone have a good time. But, on the other hand, there is something fundamentally grueling and exclusive about the marathon and doing the minimum to go 26.2M just doesn't capture that spirit.

And to be clear. I'm talking about effort, not time. I have several friends who run races and bring up the last 1/4 of the race. But they bust their asses and I'm proud of them. There are a variety of reasons that a person might legitimately not be able to run faster than 6 hours for a marathon. But there are a lot more reasons healthy people can run much faster.

This something I've had on the back of my mind for several years ever since some of my friends back at Madison were talking about migrating from the marathon to more "extreme" endurance events like ultras and Iron distance races. Among other things they felt that the marathon had ceased to be the test of athleticism and determination that it once was now that so many people were doing it just to do it. To "go the distance" so-to-speak , but without any of connotations of persistence and determination. This sentiment was echoed perfectly by Brennan in his recounting of his ball-busting 2:41 marathon debut when he said:

"I want to run a race, not an event"

Well put. One of the few negative experiences I've had with running was in the fall of 2008 when I was lining up for a local corporate 5k. The kind where every company's employees sign up together as a team. I hadn't done a running race in month. It was a gorgeous morning, I was excited and ready to roll. I stripped down to my Brasil singlet and running shorts and jogged past the other runners/walkers to the starting line. On my way I up heard some woman say:

"Someone's trying too hard ... "

Are you fucking kidding me? It's a race! It's not all about winning but it is all about pushing yourself. If you want to show up with your other post-menopausal girlfriends and pay $25 to get a shirt for walking 3.1M while sipping low-fat lattes - that's fine. But recognize that you are guest on someone else's turf - not the other way around.

Of course it ridiculous to say that other people doing that same race with less intensity actually undermines another person's accomplishments. But still, there's something ... not quite right about showing up and not bringing your A-game.

Finally, I think I've been able to zero in on the what bothers me about the jovial chubby joggers at the back of the pack. Like Aesop and his demonstrative fables involving cuddly woodland creature I will first explain my point with an allegory. Except I'm going to use a skit from The Whitest Kids You Know called The Slow Jerk:

"That's gross though. That's not how you do that. You're doing it too slow. Stop. It's just real fast and then you stop ok?"

That's what bothers me about 7 hour marathoners, 45 min 5k "runners" and the like. For the most part they're doing it wrong. That's not how you're supposed to do that. It's fast, and then you're done - kinda. Not world record fast - but fast for you.

Good sense and the persistent injuries have prevented me from ever doing a marathon but I've helped dozens of my friends with every aspect of the training, preparation, race and recovery. From what I've seen it seems to me that the marathon is a journey.

"Doing" that marathon isn't just about hitting a certain time. It's about putting in the time. Hours of running in the cold, the rain, the heat, the snow. Making scarifies, missing happy hours, cutting weight and nursing injuries. It kinda sucks. I mean why do you think people are so freaking happy to be done! It's not just the stupid 26.2 miles - it's the whole damn ordeal.

So if you're a healthy adult and run 20M a week for a few months so you can walk/jog a 6+ hour marathon - I'm not going to say you didn't do that marathon. You just didn't do it right. It's just supposed to be quick ... and then you're done.

And never make eye contact.


  1. i know i'm in the minority here, but i really don't understand the big deal. It sounds to me that you're trying to define what an experience should be for somebody else. The lady who called you out for "trying too hard" was wrong to say that, because she was trying to define what the experience should be for you.

    As long as nobody's safety is put at risk, corrals are set up so that "fast" people start at the front, and that there are not huge expenditures to keep the roads open for one or two people - I have no problem with "slow" people being in races.

    My last point - the only reason to do it fast is if you're worried about getting caught.

  2. Brilliant double entendre.

    I agree that it's not really a big deal as long as the race is well run.

    The part that I find interesting is that the mentality, the idealized experience of the marathon, has changed since its inception where it has gone from recreational runners participating in a competitive event to competitive runners participating in a recreational even.

    Clearly, I favor one over the other but I recognize that things change over time. So if that's the way things are there really isn't much to be done except clap for all the runners and keep doing our thing.

    It's just hard to see the two combined like that ... since they should NEVER touch.

    Thanks for reading/commenting.

  3. Anonymous12:31 AM

    I wonder what kind of dynamic it would add if you were only scored based on the winning time.

    Anyone finishing in a time X% slower than the leader, is pulled from the race.

    You know, ala Tour de France stages.

    Other than that - I completely share the Elitist POV. Every cycling endurance race I've done there are definitive cutoffs. 2:45 after 33 miles of off-road racing in Chequamegon. (The fast guys are finishing 40 near that time!)

    There's a definite difference between a Marathon runner, and a Marathon participant. Perhaps they should have medals for both?