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Hey! Slow Runners, Get OFF the Course! A (Little) Rant

Posted Oct 14 2010 3:05am
With fall racing season now underway, 
The Chatter 
begins again
    WHY do slower runners even bother? WHY are they running races? WHO do they think they are, 'dumbing down' our sport?Don't they KNOW that running slowly doesn't count as running?Can't someone tell them to just stay OFF our race courses and on the COUCH?

Oh yes, the chatter continues ....
A few weekends ago, I got up early to catch up on a little blog reading before heading out for my long run, when I stumbled upon Kim's post about her conversation with fellow runner/commuter, "Bob." His input involved winning, hers involved explaining why she didn't run faster during her training runs (getting ready for the Chicago Marathon). 
And there it was. 
Another discussion about  
Kim went on to say that she was sure "Bob" was supportive of her running, no matter the speed, but she felt it necessary to 'explain' her lack of it during recent training runs.....
I commented on her post, saying that "Speed is not Everything" the title of her post, was my mantra as a general rule. I've been a big fan of John "The Penguin" Bingham since I first embarked on this journey, gravitating toward someone who saw running as more than just an end result, more than a finish line photo.  The words endurance, commitment, dedication, and *fun* come to mind.

Turns out, Kim was online (in spite of it being waaayyyyy early where she lives!), and we had a little e-mail convo back and forth.  
What Kim didn't know is that our e-mail correspondence really fired me up!! (Not at her, but at the topic). This chatter that comes up fairly regularly, but particularly around the historical marathons (Chicago, Boston, NYC...), seems to be about the lack of speed of a growing number of runners, and how it's (they are) 'dumbing down the sport' (their words, not mine).  It's an interesting dynamic, because on one hand, the chatter highlights runners who are intolerant, but on the other hand, it fuels the masses to overcome the naysayers. 
It brings attention to running. 
Not necessarily a bad thing when you get past the 

limited perspective.
Not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that 
1.6 million new cases of diabetes 
are diagnosed in people aged 20 years and older 

each year in the U.S.
being overweight or obese is a
leading risk factor 
type 2 diabetes.

Are you at risk? Read more here
Still think overweight, sedentary people should stay on the couch??
October 2009 brought the "Plodder" article in the NY Times, which set off a firestorm of discussion when Juliet Macur posted this catchy title:  Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?  She quoted both sides of the fence, ummm.... street 

The fur flew. 

A few days later, discussion about slower runners and marathons  turned over another leaf: $money$, in an article posted here .

More recently (Aug 2010), the discussion hit the street with the clatter of 1000s of running shoes crossing the start line, as American runners were dubbed by Cameron Stracher , (an apparently) noted lawyer, professor, writer and accomplished runner, as "slower, fatter (not 'faster'), and more out of shape than ever" in his online Wall Street Journal article.  Mike from excerpted the paid article for us.  (Thanks, Mike!)  You can read his version here
As I ran my 5-miler that morning (*slowly*thank*you*very*much!), I thought about our conversation, the Plodders article from last fall, and the many subsequent comments and conversations I've heard in the past year about not-so-speedy runners.  And I wrote and rewrote a post in my head... ~ a little hot ~ you might say.   

It's amazing how fast and how far you can go when you're working an issue out in your head, isn't it?  LOL     I could've run 10 more miles that morning.
Elitists. Narrow-minded. Snobbish.Stupid!
The words kept rolling around in my head ~ as I dodged cars, sidewalk cracks, and sprinklers, but kept plodding along......
You can even see it at race events, which I hadn't ever noticed before, because I'm always back-of-the-pack, so by the time I finish a race, most folks are gone.  Thank goodness for Hubs!  When he misses a race, it's really lonely!  When I recently spectated, though..... Whoa!  Boy did I see something different! 
There it was in full color.Like a flashback to high school.

Maybe I noticed it more because I'm an educator?
Not sure, but I know I noticed.  
(Most) of those elite runners not only don't look at us (slower runners) out on the road, they don't get anywhere near us after the finish line.  

Now, this might be due to the fact that they are already driving home when we're still making our way to the finish line, but rest assured, they DO sit at a different lunch table! When I saw this play out recently, I was soooo glad I've developed thick(er) skin, because this was eye-opening!
Last year, when the Plodder article came out, I heard the initial remarks from both sides, read the article, formed my opinion, and continued to turtle along at my own pace.  I was still really new to running (a few months or so), hadn't run many races, and just kind of listened in (though annoyed).  
Stephen Covey says , "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," so I just listened. 
Fast-forward a year. 
I've run lots of local races, including my first half marathon , have spectated a few, read many blogs of both fast and slow runners along with running mags and online content, and talked with and met many runners ~ of all size and shapes, faces and paces.  
I've sought to understand.

Yes, there are obvious differences between faster and slower runners:
  • pace and body shape/size being the obvious two 

    But the overwhelming difference seems to be what motivates them:
  • faster runners are gunning for prize money, awards, and titles
  • slower runners are aiming to finish
  • slower runners are often seeking the healthy benefits of running 

  • faster runners = sport.  competition with others + self       
    slower runners = lifestyle.  competition with self + others
    See the difference?
    Now, I may be overgeneralizing a bit here,  and this is strictly my observation after  a year of listening.

    (Running buddies feel free to chime in with your comments below.) 
    In fact, not too long ago, a bloggy/running friend said to me in an e-mail, "I wish I could lighten up and run for 'fun.I'm always so anxious about my training and races."  And when you read her posts, if you 'listen' carefully, you can pick up on that.  She's an awesome athlete, but why can't she have a little fun??
    Now I realize in an uber-athlete's world, finishing isn't even a question, and anything less than puke pace to the bitter end isn't an option.

    But hey, guess what!? 

    In my never-been-an-athlete, easy-to-regress, somewhat-overweight and not-perfectly-healthy world, showing up is major, finishing is a HUGE accomplishment, and puking may very well happen.

    I'm also spending $$$, something race organizers, running gear purveyors, and advertisers can't don't ignore.  
    I, like many of you, am choosing a lifestyle that's about:
    • building upon new habits and new ways of thinking about things
    • learning to endure when giving up seems sooooooo much easier (we know it's not because then we feel defeated)
    • learning to accept my body, find its limitations and push to or past them
    • dealing with (as many of you are) chronic health conditions that often impede progress, or at the very least, affect HOW we tackle running

    WE are choosing a lifestyle that involves blisters, road rash, sunburn, dehydration, heat stroke, stress fractures, broken bones, torn ligaments, sodium depletion, carbohydrate depletion, hypothermia, dodging cars, surgery, physical therapy.... and the list goes on.  

    And you're going to tell me we're not runners??

    Admittedly, there are many newbie runners who are working on getting faster, feeling the need to explain their current pace, as though it's a defect, that somehow it makes them less of a runner. 
    Guess what? It doesn't!

    In fact, over the past year, I've watched as fellow bloggers have struggled with this dilemma... some (read MJ's thoughtful post) embracing their slower pace while others lament until they speed up.  
    It's okay. 
    We are all different. 
    We all have different goals. 
    We all have different motivations.  

    We WILL all cross the finish line.  
    (literally and metaphorically)There may just not be anyone there
    to see when some many of us do!  

    (It would be nice if they were, but we're glad to finish.)

    Does that make us less of a runner?
    Go ahead. Try to convince me. I dare you.

    Oh, wait. I have a training run to do.
    You see, I'm getting ready for my ___________ that will take _______ to complete. (Fill in the blanks for yourself.)

    Fast or slow.... we all cross the finish line. 

    Own your journey. One run (fast or slow) at a time.
    Founders' Day 10K '09: 
    Redemption after a heat stroke 
    at the Disney Race for the Taste 10K 
     one month prior, and a new chip PR: 1:14:20

    Happy running, friends.....


    p.s. ~ Kim, I REALLY did mean 'literally' in this post.  :-) 

    p.s.s. ~ Special THANKS to all of the Turtles Tribe readers who ARE 'fasties'  (including The Redhead , who ran the last 1/2 mile with me for the Founders' Day 10K AFTER running her own speedy race!) for being part of the community.... YOU are part of MY journey!   And I sincerely appreciate you for that.   :-) 
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