Friday, November 20, 2009

Are plodders 'disgracing' marathons?

A little over a month ago, I did an interview with a local runner who completed the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 6:02:07 -- making hers the slowest time put up by a Charlottean at the Oct. 11 race. Driven by nothing more than her unique outlook on marathoning, it became one of the most popular Q&As I've published, with readers calling this Average Jane "remarkable," and "an inspiration."

Not long after that, the New York Times published a story that put the spotlight on "plodders," and noted that these slower runners were "driving some hard-core runners crazy."

I posted a link to this story on my Facebook profile, and was surprised when the first comment -- from an old newspaper buddy, Dave -- was: "anything slower than 10-min mile, get out..." The stream of feedback that followed was more along the lines of what I had expected it would be, with lots of runners supporting inclusiveness. One response, from a guy I run with often, read: "I have news for 99.999% of the marathon runners, there will always be someone finishing in front of you at the marathon. The increased participation should be cause for celebration in a country with such a serious obesity problem." (This comment was followed by much cheering from the peanut gallery.)

Now, Dave's got a sense of humor, so I wasn't sure whether he was just tossing a grenade into the room and running off down the hallway in the other direction. But a couple of weeks later, I posted a link to this column (from the Atlantic) that amounts to a big up-yours to marathon elitists. Dave chimed in again: "I'm sorry but if you can't do it at a reasonable pace, don't do it. you wouldn't want golfers playing 8 shots per tee or people on the basketball court who don't make any shots. people taking 6 hours and stuff is ridiculous... that is not running."

It was clear he was serious about this. So on Wednesday, after stumbling upon this blog about why slow runners are good for marathons, I decided it was time to ... well, toss a grenade into the room and run off down the hallway in the other direction.

I forwarded a link to said blog to Dave, and asked him to respond to the author's reasoning. Here's the essay Dave sent back to me:

The other day, I watched a video clip of a comedian named Cousin Sal, of the Jimmy Kimmel Show, trying to distract runners in the Los Angeles Marathon. He glued water bottles to a table, guided a remote control toy car in and out of the runners’ legs and bribed people to drop out for $200.

My immediate reaction: Appalling, disgraceful, disrespectful to the sport!

But it wasn’t Cousin Sal who got me. It was the fact that virtually everyone in the clip was … walking. Hundreds of people passed by in some scenes, none breaking into even a slow jog. Big deal that one guy took the money and surrendered his bib. He was a good 30 pounds overweight, “running” in knee-length cargo shorts and wearing wire-rimmed aviator sunglasses. This dude wasn’t caving to the evil Cousin Sal. He had quit long before the race even began.

I have nothing against slow runners. Or walkers. Or crawlers. I encourage everyone to get out and start exercising at one’s own pace, then building up endurance and speed slowly. I have walked with beginning exercisers after finishing my own runs as a form of encouragement.

But a marathon? Two words: get out!

There is absolutely no point for anyone who can’t run under, say, 10 minutes per mile to enter a marathon. At that point you are making a mockery of the sport. Anyone who has ever competed seriously in athletics knows that it is not enough to be enthusiastic and willing to try. You have to devote time and effort, be disciplined and appreciate what it takes to become skilled enough to respect the spirit of the games.

Step on the football field with the lack of fitness and training as some of these slow runners and you’re going to get your head taken off. You would be entirely uncompetitive in basketball, baseball and soccer with that little skill. Yes, running is an individual sport, you against the road, but the same tenets apply: train, be serious, and if you can’t do it, don’t. You wouldn’t ski a black diamond slope if you had to inch down the trail. You wouldn’t surf the North Shore if you didn’t know how to stand up on the surf board. Sit it out and train harder for next time.

I appreciate that the open registration of road races has helped spur the running boom, but I don’t think that self-editing and running only those races in which you are reasonably competitive – against the course or yourself, if not the other runners – would hurt the charities for which money is raised or the overall interest in the sport. The true test of a runner, after all, is not finishing 26.2 miles with your family and friends and half of New York cheering for you. It’s running every day, every week, every month, every year, in bad weather, with no one around, even when your body hurts.

I have never run a marathon and I won’t unless I get serious enough to run a time that I can respect. Instead, I limit myself to shorter races – 5k, 10k, 10 miles. My father, a serious runner during the early boom in the 1970s and 80s – his marathon p.r. was 3:06 – used to say that during a road race the atmosphere changes when you start running under 8 minutes per mile. That’s when the chattering stops and all you can hear is people breathing. When I worked up to 7-minute mile pace for the 5- and 10-k races I would do as a teenager, I found he was right.

To me, that is the real test: if you can carry on a conversation while running – or pause to consider a bribe from Cousin Sal – you aren’t going fast enough.
David Nakamura, 39, a journalist, has been a moderate runner for 25 years and currently trains weekly with the Namban Rengo, a Tokyo-based international running club. He sticks with the B-level running group during interval workouts, "out of respect for the far faster runners in the A group."

BOOM.

37 comments:

Wazinga said...

I'm glad that Dave knows the slowest pace for a marathon is 10:00. Can he please let us all know what his acceptable paces for halfs, 10Ks and 5Ks are. We need to know if we am running fast enough to satisfy him.

I would also like to know his criteria for other things.

Anonymous said...

I'm a really slow marathoner. I think that's OK. But I have a few thoughts.

1. If you think the fact that someone took 6.5 hours to run a marathon lessens your acheivement somehow- you are insecure. If you need to show the world you are awesome, when the chunky gal you work with pipes up that she did a marathon- tell the whole world you did yours in half time.

2. Even running a very slow marathon takes training and a degree of fitness. It's not like people can get off their couch and go run a marathon in 6 hours. The people in the back of the pack trained too. No, probably not as hard as you did. But they put in the long runs.

3. I will say there is a danger that if marathoning caters to "plodders" the sport could have some negative changes (I have seen it in other sports). Mainly- I could see courses being made easier. Heck- why are people always peeved by races having a hill? I could see organizers making easier courses to attract more runners- not that 26.2 is easy... but you get the idea.

Lastly- I used to weigh close to 300 lbs. Now I am closer to 200. Running is a GOOD reason why I lost the weight. And the motivation of finishing a 5K...then a half... then a full... is what motivated me to keep running and lose the weight. In the back of the pack at my marathon I spoke to an 80 year old woman- the goal of the marathon kept her moving as a senior.

I can see where people who seriously train to be competitive might not want to share their sport with people who "want to finish". I definitely think we need special races with time limits that really celebrate the runners who are serious about being fast.

And slower runners= start in the back.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who makes the effort to run a marathon or any distance should be supported no matter what time it takes them. We tend to forget that we started to exercise to live a healthier lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Let's see...a 10 minute per mile pace for a marathon averages out to a 4:20 marathon. At the 2008 Thunder Road marathon, 608 runners finished with a 10 minute or better per mile pace, while another 360 runners with times exceeding 10 minutes per mile. If you would not have allowed the "slower" runners to have entered, an the entry fee was $90 per person, the race organizers would have lost at least $32,000 on entry fees alone. Now running any race is much more than just money spent and earned on entry fees. The opening of races to 6, 7 and 8 hour limits has allowed more runners to participate. Have you ever tried to do the walk / run Galloway method of running a marathon, or just walking 26 miles. Are these people any less an athelete? Is the person who hikes the Applachian Trail for 26 miles less of a hiker because he walked and not run the trail! Get real Dave. We ara all have the right to an opinion, but you are a snob! You come across as an elitist. Are you embarassed that you would be showed up in a marathon by a PLODDER!

StompinRhino said...

Dave - I like your pieces on Tokyo sometimes and admire your serious attitude towards running, but you're completely missing the point here.

There are already two types of marathon - one serious only, and the other plodders welcome. The first has cut-off times fast enough to ensure that only the most dedicated, competitive runners can participate. If you don't want plodders getting in your way, run one of these elite races - if and when you can make the cut.

The other type of marathon, and the one you are referring to, is the big city marathons we all know and love, the races that welcome everyone who is game to have a go. Many serious runners compete in these race also of course, and some of these people are very fast, but big city marathons are so much more than just a race, in the same way that country fairs are not just about who has the best Angus stud or who can chop wood the fastest. Big city marathons attract tens of thousands of participants and many more spectators because these events not just a race, they are a celebration - a festival when for one glorious day the roads are free of automobiles and the city belongs to its people again; when we can all celebrate the long lost art of getting about the place on our own two feet.

So don't deride people for "chattering" rather than running - celebrate that you can even hear them at all.

I've run marathons somewhat seriously (3hr27m) and also very slowly (5hrs!), and in both cases but particularly the latter I am filled with awe at the simple joy at having the city streets to ourselves for once. In fact, finishing a 5hr marathon was in some ways actually even more satisfying than the faster one when I was more fit. When I ran fast it was all about me and my immediate competitors. When I plodded, I discovered that I was part of something so much bigger than that.

Anonymous said...

Dave...you're an elitist punk. If self-absorption was a sport, you'd be in the Olympics.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Dave...running is for ALL levels. If you sign up for a marathon (unless you're insane) - you did some serious training to get to the starting line - no matter what pace you run. It's your attitude that is disgraceful DAVE! We are all free to run whatever pace we can. Who are you to dictate what pace? Runner Snob.

Anonymous said...

This is why races have a wave start. Everyone who pays the fee has the same right to be on the course. If you have the mental ability to run a race in 5+ hours, then you are pushing your body to a goal that does not come as naturally and those who can run it in 3.5 hours. Hence, the achievement is that much greater. Kudos to all marathon finishers, no matter the time!

Anonymous said...

I respect Dave's opinion, but I couldn't disagree with him more. For competitors, marathons are a very personal thing, so it will come as no surprise when I say Dave's comments infuriate and disgust me. Theoden, you've given this dude enough space for his views. Please move on.

booooooom said...

Running is a sport?

Slec Havlik said...

I would imagine that the "plodders" end up at the back of the line fairly quickly. So what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

Dave, thank you!!!! The marathon is about running, not walking. Yes, naysayers, walking is fine if you hit the wall or get injured during the race. To run a marathon in 6 hours takes a lot of walking. Try the shorter races and work up so that you can continue running the whole time.

Cedar Posts said...

A few years ago I watched coverage of an Ironman Triathlon that is held each year in Kona on the island of Hawaii.

The sight of runners against the backdrop of the Hawaiian Islands was stunning. One of the sidebar stories was of a father of 3 severally injured in a car accident 2 years prior.

He was a plodder. His running slow and painful to even watch, once told he would never walk again he had to push himself to walk much less run. The paralysis that gripped his body was evident with every stride. But he plodded on, determined to finish.

He had run dozens of races before the accident, even traveling to Boston and Atlanta to run both marathons the year before fate crippled his body.

Long after the awards, after the crowds had gone home, after the officials had placed a DNF next to his number he plodded on.

It was well into darkness when he finished. Only ABC Sports and a handful of supporters and family were on hand to watch this once great athlete finish, the pain of pushing his contorted body to the limit ripping across his face. But he finished, and to this day that triumph makes me break down.

To my speedy egotistical friends I pray out every day “There but for the grace of God go I” and you should too.

Matt W said...

Dave's arguments point out why running is different from other sports and thus why running is great. No, I'm not going to step onto a football field and get my head taken off or onto a basketball court and throw air balls. And I'm not going to get in the way of other golfers because I take "8 shots per tee". Running is great because I don't have to be worry about those things. I don't get in any one's way and I don't let the team down if I finish 30 minutes behind the winner. Races are great too. Be it a 5k or marathon, they become a goal for the walker, plodder, jogger, or elite runner to work toward. You can run a 5 minute pace or walk a 16 minute pace. As long as you pay your entry fee you have every right to be there. Heck, you don't even have to pay, just don't eat my share of bananas if you don't. :)

This statement that Dave wrote concerns me the most: "I have never run a marathon and I won’t unless I get serious enough to run a time that I can respect." That is his loss. While it is good to expect great things out of yourself, he is denying himself something he may just enjoy, no matter what his finish time.

Personally, I started running just because I like to exercise and love being outside. I'm not competitive and used to think I'd never enter a race because I didn't see the point. But I learned to enjoy races because of the people, the atmosphere and the traffic yields to me for a change. I guess it is a good thing that most race organizers do not share Dave's opinion.

Anonymous said...

I plod therefore I AM!

Austin said...

I can understand where he is coming from, because the same thing is happening my profession (journalism). There are new, hyper local news blogs and publications popping up staffed by people that have no journalism training or experience. And that really bothers some of the old school journalists (and to be honest, it has bothered me in certain circumstances). But the industry is changing and in 10 years or less, journalism isn’t going to look like it does now, and may only vaguely resemble what it looked like 20 years ago.

The same thing is happening in running. More and more people are joining in and the sport is changing—some say for the better, others think it’s going down in flames. Personally, I think as long as there continue to be events just for the elite runners, with cut off times and maybe even qualifying events, things will be fine.

My wife and brother-in-law are on a community flag football team. The league gives them the opportunity to play the sport, to be a part of something. Why can’t runners have the same thing?

I’m the most un-athletic person on the planet. I’m terrible at anything considered a sport, even video game sports. But I can put one foot in front of the other, and I can average about 11 minutes a mile. I never want to compete on the elite level, in fact, I don’t want to compete at all, that’s not who I am. I just want to run for me, for fitness, and for the fun of being a part of something. Sure I can run 13 miles in my neighborhood, but doing it in a race lets me participate with others, and have something to show for my achievement.

Maybe there should be special races for people like me (though the corralling system in most races seems to work fine), I don’t know. I just don’t think elite runners, or aspiring elite runners like Dave, should get so bent up about it.

Cedar Posts said...

I guess it is just not my day.... first I'm a plodder and now I'm a wanna be, hyper local news blog writer with journalism training!

Sigh!

Anonymous said...

Maybe Dave could run faster if he would take that stick out of his behind.

Anonymous said...

Someone told this to me when I was training: Under 4:00 you ran a marathon, over 4:00 you walked a marathon.

Austin said...

@CedarPosts - Don't be discouraged! The news blogs only bother journalists because we paid too much money to be taught how to ask people the same uncomfortable questions you can. For the record, I think they are the news of the future.

Maybe elite runners are bothered because desk jockeys like me can fun in the same race they train full-time for. I can see how that might tick them off.

Anonymous said...

1. Considering the obsity issue I'd say everyone should encourage anyone who wants to to run/walk whatever they need to do to finish any race of any length.

2. I think Dave has lost sight of the charitable nature of this.

3. Clearly there is an insecurity issue here. Its pretty pathetic to put down the accomplishments of someone else just to make yourself feel better.

4. Maybe these "elite runners" need to worry more about the people in front of them than the people behind them.

5. Golf, basketball, football, tennis, et al are completley different than running in that if you are faster than someone else they are not in your way.

6. This story was out some time ago, are you SURE posting this wasn't just a way to generate some heat for the blog?

Paul said...

On behalf of 10:00 runners everywhere; Bite me Dave. If it weren't for our entry fees and participation, the run (pick one) wouldn't be near the event that it is today.

Anonymous said...

Light bulb moment. I just figured out who Dave is.

You know when you are plodding the last mile of a race, and this guy who has already finished comes running back through the course, frequently carrying a medal or wearing a plastic blanket, ostensibly shouting encouragement to the plodders but in reality feeding his insatiable ego by doing his little impromptu victory lap?

The guy you want to shout something really profane to but you're too out of breath?

The guy you want to chase down and belt in the nose but you know you could never catch him?

That's Dave!

An unrepentant plodder

Anonymous said...

Dave is an A$$ and it sounds like he is "skerred" to enter a marathon...afraid he might not set a record time or (gulp) maybe not even finish? I have completed 2 full marathons and it took me more than 6 hours to finish each of them. I trained HARD for months, I did hill work, I did speed work, I ran the long runs on Saturday's and crossing those finish lines changed my life, for the better. My money spent on registrations is equal to his. I am an ATHLETE just like he is. But here is where we differ, I expect I get WAY more enjoyment out of my training, my running (and walking) and my accomplishments than he will ever get out of his. My medals are framed and on the wall and I am proud every day that I look at them to know "I did it" and it doesn't matter HOW long it took me to do it, I did it. Take your elitist way of thinking and shove it up your skinny, narrow, 8 minute mile A$$. Excuse me...now I have to go out for my s-l-o-w run, smiling all the way.

Allen said...

How'd Dave come up with a 10:00/mile cutoff? Why not 8? 7? Shoot, let's only let sub-6 minute per mile folks run marathons. They're the only ones with realistic chances of winning. Why should anyone else run a marathon? Heck, why not make like the Mayans and execute all the losers? Those guys knew what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

I am so appalled by dave's nonsense. Like what is this guys deal, everyone has an opinion but this guys flat out sucks. It is apparent that dave has never endured knee surgeries or any tragic orthopedic surgery. Just because people are finishing above a 10 min mile pace does not mean they have not put the time and effort in the training as a 7 minute mile pacer.

This guy is a real piece of work. Running is competitive but it is nothing like soccer, basketball or football. This is an individual sport and most people run and break times for themselves not for people like dave.

Dave you need to get your head out of your butt.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea to make Dave happy - a marathon for people who run more than 8 min/mile. If you an run faster than that, you're not allowed to enter...

Anonymous said...

Dave is making the assumption that if you take 6 hours or more to finish, you have not trained and are not taking it seriously. Everyone who has finished a marathon knows you cannot walk, much less run 26 miles without some sort of training. Some of us are just not fast and never will be, no matter how hard we train but that doesn't mean I did not work hard to earn the right to enter a race. I accept the fact that I will never qualify for Boston and respect and admire all those that do.

Paul H said...

I just ran my first marathon this past Saturday. I finished in 4:36 which means I was well over Dave's acceptable pace for competing. But you know what, I am proud of myself for my performance even though I had never run anything longer than a 10K until this summer. I am proud of the 18 week training program I went through which had me running 4 times per week, often in cold and rainy predawn mornings. I am proud of the 12 pounds of weight I lost during my training. And I am proud that when I crossed the finish line, my seven year old daughter put my finisher medal around my neck and hugged me. At no time did I ever consider myself a disgrace to the sport of running.

Jen K said...

Rock on Paul H. Not a disgrace at all!

PS- Dave makes himself sound like a marathon expert, yet he then says he has yet to run one? Finish one (who CARES what speed), and then maybe you'll have a little respect for people of all speeds that can do 26.2.

Rob said...

How silly. It's all a matter of context. IF the event warrants a "Professional" level, the organizers will limit the field to professionals.

Dave's analogy to playing professional sports without the "proper training" is invalid because untrained athletes would never make the team. But they might make their city's co-ed flag football team.

I think Dave should have his beef with the race organizers and not the plodders. If a marathon should be an elite event, then the organizers of the race should limit registration, otherwise it should be all inclusive.

There are lots of levels to all sports, baseball, football, etc. and if the race is all-comers then you're going to get ALL-comers. Otherwise, run your elite/professional races and don't sweat the plodders, they'll be way behind you anyway.

JT said...

You run your own race. End of story.

Amy Hutchison said...

I saw this somewhere else and have to put in my two cents, because I haven't seen this reasoning brought up (at least not enough).

Several months ago, as Director of Development for the Bethlehem Center, I committed to run the half marathon at Thunder Road. We are one of this year's charities, and since we already had 20+ volunteers coming to help out, I wanted to run it instead.

I'm slow. I'm talking, 12 minute mile kind of slow. But I committed to doing it, so I'm going to do it. So now, I went from sitting on the couch to running any time I have a spare 2 hours.

More than anything, I've gotten the motivation to run because I have an end goal in site-to cross the line. Yes, I would rather not complete it in over 2 and a half hours, but I committed to doing it, so I will. But what I've also realized is that this is just my starting point. This is my base time to improve on. Next year, maybe I'll run it in an hour and a half instead (ok, ok, so of course not...)

As a former high school athlete (I competed in track events), I understand and would never want to take away what serious runners do to train. But just remember that there was a point that you started running as well. For some of us, a 10+ minute mile is our starting point, not our end.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting discussion. I guess the issue is that we don't really have a consensus on what constitutes plodding. I came across this project that is trying to define plodding. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I want to call attention to a part of Dave's rant that people here seem to have missed.

"The true test of a runner, after all, is not finishing 26.2 miles with your family and friends and half of New York cheering for you. It’s running every day, every week, every month, every year, in bad weather, with no one around, even when your body hurts."

Why do I consider myself a runner? Not because I'm fast --I usually cruise at an 8:00/mile pace, and with supreme effort I can push myself to 7:00/mile pace over 4 or 5 miles. That's quite pedestrian by today's standards. However, several weekdays I deliberately wake up one hour earlier than I should so that I can do some jogging before going to work. On weekends, while most people are just opening their eyes, I'm returning from a two-hour run. And here's the thing: I don't do it because I want to finish I race; I do it because I enjoy running. Races are not goals, they are simply excuses for a weekend trip, to allow me the novelty of running through a different town. Real runners run just because.

Plodder said...

Your friend's argument would hold more water if he refuted ANY of the points the other blogger made. Instead he fixates on speed as the measure of all things. Does he know anything about ultra-running? Ultra-runners- even the elite ones walk certain parts of races. Read Pam Reed's (winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon)memoir. I could also make the exact same argument about distance that he makes about speed. (which, by the way, I don't believe at all) If you're ONLY going to run 5K you're not a real runner. Sit it out. Train harder until you can run 50 miles. Tough guy.

Anonymous said...

I just completed a half marathon today. It was my 3rd...and my slowest. Race officials were rolling their eyes at the plodders. I am slow. I know it. I accept it. Do I know I will never be a winner or a race? Yes. Do I wish I were an elite runner? Yes. I train just as much as the elite runner. If they had to run as long as I do they could complete a marathon 2 times. I have an endurance but no speed. Even as a kid I was slow. I was a high school athlete and did well just did not run until I was 30 years old. I feel accomplished in my goals and I am proud of all I do. I feel it is mean spirited of the elite runners to not let us come. I do check the race requirements and if the race is not within my time frame, I do not register. But if I can do it and I am well within your time frame, do not complain. I finished and did what I was supposed to do so don't complain. Especially when I paid.