An article written several years ago has been making the rounds on social media recently. It basically says that slow marathoners shouldn’t be allowed to call themselves marathoners or even allowed to participate.
Purists believe that running a marathon should be just that — running the entire course at a relatively fast clip. They point out that a six-hour marathoner is simply participating in the event, not racing in it. Slow runners have disrespected the distance, they say, and have ruined the marathon’s mystique.
Certain runners believe that to get a medal for a marathon, you should earn it by running fast. But isn’t fast relative? One person quoted in the article mentioned above was talking about how wearing a marathon t-shirt doesn’t mean much any more. Ironically, the woman quoted putting down six-hour marathoners is a 4:05 marathoner. There are many runners who wouldn’t consider that fast either.
Things evolve and running is no exception. While running “purists” might miss the “good ol’ days” where medals were only given to winners and the average time for a marathon was under four hours, I appreciate today’s running culture where everyone is encouraged to participate and all runners are celebrated. More and more people aspire to accomplish big goals. The Biggest Loser even had a marathon at the end of several of its seasons, making it the ultimate physical challenge for people who had dramatically changed their lives. For some people, accomplishing that goal is the end of it. For others, that first big marathon step is the beginning of a life of running. When I trained for my first marathon, I was not a runner. It was all about that goal. I had no idea if I would be a four-hour marathoner or a six-hour marathoner. I ran it in just under five. But the most important thing was not the time of that first marathon, but what training did for me. It changed me and turned me into a runner. That five-hour marathoner qualified for Boston three years later. Had the culture of marathoning been all about the speed, I never would have done it.
Individual races are free to establish cut-off times for finishing. Many races have liberal cut-off times. Races often establish these deadlines for financial reasons; it costs money to keep roads closed and have support for the straggling runners. The bottom line is that race cut-offs are a function of economics, not the “mystique” of the marathon. More and more people are signing up for marathons and races are trying to accommodate as many as they reasonably can.
So are these slow marathons hurting the sport? In my opinion, it is just the opposite. Having someone run a six-hour marathon does not diminish another person’s three-hour race. We all went out and put one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles. If someone walked that 26.2 miles, that does not lessen the distance. Have you ever been out on the road for six hours? It is not easy. I believe that any time a person gets off the couch, sets a goal and moves it is a good thing.
Do you think that slow marathoners have hurt the mystique of the marathon?