Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Marathon for the Masses?

I recently came across this article on Slate.com in which the author, Gabriel Sherman, decries the exploding popularity of the marathon as sport for the masses. In particular, the article focuses on “how sluggish newbies ruined the marathon."

I hope to run a 3 hour and 30 minute marathon this November at the ING New York City Marathon. Having fewer runners ahead of me, clogging the streets, would likely help me attain that goal and thus, I initially agreed with Mr. Sherman.

After my biased and self-serving initial reaction I applied some thought to the matter and frankly I couldn’t disagree more. The growth in popularity of the marathon is good for almost everybody – from the first time marathoner whose aim is to finish, to the middle of the pack runner right on up the starting chute to the sub-elite and world class athletes like Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi.

In general terms, the popularity surge of the marathon has inspired more people to get fit, something that America desperately needs. Six of out ten American adults are overweight. Nearly 20% of children in America are obese and many have, or are at risk of developing, Type 2 Diabetes. Methinks repetitive use injuries like stress fractures, tendonitis and shin splints are laughable as compared to diabetes, elevated blood pressure and heart attack.

Increased marathon popularity also means more races and more well managed races – obviously a good thing as this translates into greater opportunity for success for competitive runners. If it’s a small marathon you want you’re not forced to run with 40,000 others plodding down the streets of Chicago. Thanks to the growing popularity of the sport there are plenty of well managed, USATF certified marathons with a smaller numbers of participants to choose from.

This trend also translates into a growth in the Prize Purses for the elite athletes of our sport (the NYC marathon purse is $500,000 this year). And while we’re talking about money I just fail to see how the $660 Million that many “newbies” have raised for Team In Training to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma is a bad thing.

Even if the growing popularity of marathons means I will have to work harder on Marathon Sunday to reach my personal goals, I am glad to run with 37,000 “newbies,” veterans, world class and Olympic athletes. Afterall, it was the the sight of so many running the New York Marathon after 9/11 that inspired me to train for and run my first marathon.

"All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why."
-James Thurber


Deene said...

i read this article as well, i'm thinking the author is getting some nasty emails. you certainly hit all the right points. based on his comments i was wondering if he suddenly realized how average he after he noticed that anyone can finish a marathon.

Sempre Libera said...

I totally agree with you, Josh. Some friends and I have been discussing the same piece and it seems that the author is under some deluded impression that the participation of many somehow dilutes the importance of one's individual achievement. I thought his piece was shallow and immature, and missed all the big, positive points you just made.

DebbieJRT said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Josh. I'll probably never run a marathon (not that interested, but that could change) but I love seeing the 'average runners' in the marathon. Much more inspiring.

Oh, by the way, nice photo in the latest issue of the NYRR magazine ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well written, Josh. I have enjoyed reading the varying opinions on this opinion piece...and it's good to see we all agree on a main point: Everyone is out there to accomplish something and has just as much of a right to be there.

JustRun said...

Well said, Josh. I read that article yesterday and it infuriated me.
You might also be interested to know that the author's best marathon time is somewhere between 4:30 and 4:50, depending on the comments you read. This irritates me more because it seems he just wrote the article to garner attention. Yuck.

Ginger Breadman said...

I was gonna say 'well said', but I guess that's been - well - said. I'm hilarious, arent' I? Truly, though - you have some great points in your post about that article. It's amazing how you can see something so differently from another viewpoint. And from other emails I have today from the Dead Runner's Society - I think the majority of the running community agrees with you. The James Thurber quote you ended with, and the comment you left on my last post really make me think, and I'll likely carry them all the way through the Portland Marathon this sunday, regarless of what pace I run. Thanks for that.