Who are hares to condemn tortoises? Responding to the Times critique of slow marathoners

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:

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “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?’ ”

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:

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?

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.

0 thoughts on “Who are hares to condemn tortoises? Responding to the Times critique of slow marathoners

  1. AMEN! I was absolutely disgusted when I read this article, although I wasn’t surprised by the smug comments from Wald and Given. I’ve heard this opinion voiced countless times, mostly from mediocre runners in the NYC circuit. I found it laughable that Given made it her duty to tell a 5+ hour completer that they didn’t run the marathon when she completed in 4:05! And Wald coaches a Division III team! Point is, these non-professional snobs need to GET OVER IT and stop worrying about other runners. Perhaps if they focused on their own race they’d perform better! Thank you for not being among the faux-elite and truly recognizing the true spirit of running. That’s what makes you a real runner.

  2. Yeesh. Wonder what she has to say about the Special Olympics.

    She’s threatened with being one of the losers and has to draw a bright line between herself and the “undeserving” like you.

  3. there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon…

    I admit I’m wandering into a topic that doesn’t actually involve me, but what the hell.

    If a person walks every other mile of a marathon (or whatever), then they technically didn’t “run it,” semantically speaking, right? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable line of distinction between amateur and professional marathoners? That way, the snobs can pointlessly inflate their egos while the for fun crowd can do their thing without being berated by the former (in theory).

  4. Several years ago I saw the winner of the Chicago marathon interviewed by ABC news. When they asked him how it felt to be a hero he made a very gracious comment. “I am not the true hero of this race. The true heroes are the men and women who run for four or five or even six hours. I could never run that long.”

  5. What a great way of putting it, davev! I’m so happy you shared that.

    I think the key word in the complaint that “there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon…” is [i]pride[/i]. It’s about the recognition of strangers.

  6. Hmm, judging by the amount of delight I take in working out, I am a miserable and horrible failure. I am not sure what to make of that.

  7. On further thought, I think you mean “judge your performance at sport/exercise” rather than “judge your worth as a human being.” I was reading a different meaning of the words “judge myself” than you probably intended.