I recently came across an article about how ‘slow runners’ are ruining marathons. The author ranted about hordes of selfie-taking, tutu-wearing, back-of-the-pack-runners who are ruining the purity of the marathon.
I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
I didn’t look into the background of the author, but I envision him as super serious. The idea of enjoying himself while running (and especially while running a race) would never occur to him. He no doubt has an elaborate warm-up routine (that he’s sure to do when there are lots of people around so everyone can watch him do his elaborate warm-up routine).
What he considers the ‘right speed’ to run is no doubt right around his pace (funny how it works out that way).
Oh… I’m sorry, is my bias showing?
I got REALLY mad reading this article. I know the right thing to do is put a link to the article here, but I couldn’t make myself do it (I just couldn’t give them the page views).
It all showed a complete lack of understanding of what takes place at the back of the pack on race day. My guess is he’s never seen it.
He’s likely home and showered by the time I finish in the middle of the pack. He’s probably moved on to his next training cycle by the time the last finishers cross the line.
Casual Runners vs. Slower Runners
I’m pretty sure these are the runners the author was referring to.
‘Casual’ may not be the right word, but I couldn’t come up with a better word, so I’ll go with it.
Casual runners can be found at the back of the pack, often in costume, selfie-ing away, and documenting everything for Instagram.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confess I’m not a huge fan of the over-selfie-ing of some marathons either. I was unreasonably annoyed by the number of selfies being taken at The Big Sur Marathon last time I did it in 2013 (and that was before Instagram was as ever-present, I can only imagine what it’s like now). But I also know that’s my problem, not the problem of those runners.
These ‘casual runners’ are having fun. Taking in the experience of the marathon in the way that suits them best.
Who am I to judge how they choose to take in the experience?
What really irked me about the article was how he specifically called out ‘slow runners’ as the source of the marathon’s decline (as he saw it).
It takes some runners a long time to finish a marathon.
Many courses have a 6-hour time limit and many finishers just barely make it. Other races have course limits, but they let runners continue for 8, 9 or even 10 hours – they just have to move to the sidewalk.
These ‘slow runners’ aren’t ruining the marathon, they are the soul of the marathon.
Maybe they are new to the sport and are pushing way past their comfort zone. Perhaps they carry a few extra pounds or are coming back from injury. Maybe they run at a slower pace and simply have no interest in going faster (yes, we do exist).
Whatever the reason for their pace, many of these runners care more about finishing than what the clock reads when they finish.
But, unlike what author seemed to think, just because a runner has a slower time doesn’t mean they aren’t taking it seriously.
These slower marathoners are just as serious as the fastest marathoners, they just take longer to cross the finish line.
We Could Learn From The Ironman
There is a tradition with triathletes, started with (as I understand it) the Ironman Championships in Kona.
The winners of the race come back to the finish line hours after their own finishes, just before the midnight deadline, to cheer the last finishers across the line.
I dare you to not tear up watching the videos of some of these scenes.
Often, it’s 70 and 80-year-old athletes hobbling across the finish line with only minutes to spare, being cheered on and embraced by the race winners and the elites of the sport.
I wish there was more of this spirit at marathons.
Unlike the last Ironman finishers who are cheered on by the winners, the last marathon finishers are often greeted by empty food tables and vendors who have long since gone home.
I know the author of this article presented an extreme view. I’m also sure I took his views to be more extreme than I think even he meant them (it struck a nerve, what can I say).
But reading it really reiterated to me that every marathon runner is running for their own reasons, at their own pace.
All finishers are equally worthy.
Fast, slow, costumed (or not), selfie-taking (or not).
They are still out there running.
And they all should be applauded.