Never mind the critics that look down upon the masses who complete 26.2 miles nowadays, we should enjoy our achievements.
By Henry Howard
On Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, I achieved a bucket list goal, completing a 26.2-mile run in 4:07:55 at the Indianapolis Monumental.
Starting that day I could rightfully say, “I am a marathoner.”
I epitomized being a middle-of-the-packer, finishing 1,474th out of 2,911 finishers. Each of the other 2,910 finishers could also call themselves a marathoner, whether it was their first or 100th finish, or somewhere in between.
I worked hard for the distinction of calling myself a “marathoner.” I’ve seen estimates that say that only 1 percent of the U.S. population has completed a marathon. But, apparently, just completing a marathon isn’t good enough for some people.
Who is a True Marathoner?
Competitor.com recently did an interview with Steve Jones, known for winning several major marathons with his trademark break-neck running style. In the interview, he pulled no punches including taking shots at hundreds of thousands of people who proudly cross the finish line after completing 26.2 miles.
“Mass participation has hurt the sport, in my mind. It’s made a lot of people a lot of money. I have to be careful what I say because I get called out on it sometimes, but I don’t believe that starting and finishing a marathon makes you a marathoner. I don’t believe that. If you’re racing it to go as fast as you can, that’s completely different than being part of an event and just wanting to get from point A to point B.”
Mr. Jones can be described a lot of ways: runner, coach, marathoner.
I, too, am a marathoner.
In my first marathon, I did race as fast as my 40something legs could take me. No, it wasn’t at a break-neck pace. And yes, I did stop to pee. And I recall walking briefly a time or two. But none of that makes me or anyone else who had a similar experience any less of a marathoner.
Along the way during each of my marathons, I’ve noticed and encouraged other participants who have slowed down or may not appear to be in prime running shape. But I don’t see them as an affront to my sport, as Mr. Jones seems to categorize them.
I am a marathoner, and so are they, no matter what time they cross the 26.2 line.
Jone’s continues his rant,
“The focus has changed and now there are absurd headlines, and I have to say, you (Competitor) are just as guilty, publishing articles like ‘5 Weeks to a Faster 5K’ or ‘10 Weeks to a Marathon PR.’ It’s bullsh%#. It’s just selling magazines or it just caters to people who are running 4 hours for a marathon or 25 minutes for a 5K.”
In various race results I have scanned, roughly half of the people completing marathons come in around that 4-hour mark. But it doesn’t matter whether marathoners finish at 3 hours, 4 hours or just under a 7-hour time limit. What matters is the achievement.
There are no participation medals handed out midway through a marathon. Only marathoner finishers are rightfully awarded such a medal. I know this because I have 10 hanging in my garage.
I, after all, am a marathoner.
No one really knows the struggles marathoners endure.
There are the physical challenges. Shin splints. Tendonitis. Knee pain. Sore muscles, Calf injuries. ITBS issues. But still we push on with our marathon training.
There is a dedication we share that may seem insane to non-runners. Passing up dessert. Getting out for a long run while the family sleeps on a weekend morning. Yes, we push on with our marathon training because we have an extreme desire to cross that finish line and earn our title.
We are marathoners.
Often we raise our arms in sheer joy, cross the timing area with broad smiles and/or embrace a loved one on the other side of the finish line.
Our goal — a new PR, finishing the race, or whatever — is a reflection of our commitment to training and nutrition, our dedication and love for our sport. It is also a true testament to our character.
Sadly, Mr. Jones’ assessment of today’s marathoners is a true testament to his character.
photo credit: Phil Roeder, Flickr Creative Commons