The New York Times revisited the issue of the “slow marathoner” today. Called by many the “Oprah effect” after the talk-show host walked/jogged through the Portland Marathon more than a decade ago, there’s no question that thousands of slower and less athletically able types have come to the marathoning world in recent years, often spending three times as long out on the course as the winners. Some are disgruntled by these torpid but determined newcomers, and the Times article tends to take the side of the woman quoted here:
â€œItâ€™s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,â€ said Adrienne Wald, 54, the womenâ€™s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. â€œIt used to be that running a marathon was worth something â€” there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now itâ€™s, â€˜How low is the bar?â€™ â€
In September 2006, I posted my defense of slower runners. I’ve run a dozen marathons — and several longer ultra races — and have a lifetime marathon PR of a 3:13 (a 7:24 pace), but not even a frisson of contempt for those who need twice that time to finish. From my 2006 piece:
Iâ€™ve spent years and years around very competitive and talented athletes. Iâ€™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, Iâ€™ve never heard them sneer at the slower recreational athletes who only long to finish. Real runners donâ€™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 Iâ€™ve always wanted to”, how does it diminish my accomplishment in running the same race significantly faster?
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.
Adrienne Wald, who takes more than four hours herself, ought to know that.