in defense of plodders

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

This from a New York Times article last week titled “Plodders Have a Place, But Is It a Marathon?nyccoursemap

Of course there are a number of articles about running shoes/running barefoot/distance running being published in the Times right now because the New York City Marathon is right around the corner.

But this piece in particular annoyed me. The notion that completing a marathon is worthless is incredibly elitist and dismissive of the hard work that thousands and thousands of non-elite runners put in to accomplish a physical feat that may be the most challenging of their lives.

I’ve run the New York City Marathon twice. Each time I finished in what was about the median time – a little over 4 hours. Besides being an accomplishment that I may never achieve again, this is what I recall of my marathon experience:

A child handing me orange slices from an aluminum tray filled with rainwater with wedges of orange sloshing about.

Seeing my friends and family on First Avenue cheering me on.

Crossing into the Bronx where there were almost no spectators and feeling eerily alone, despite the runners near me. Knowing that there were still over six miles to go and willing my body not to fade.

Joining a line of men peeing from the Verazzano Narrows Bridge at the start of the race because we all drank so much fluid beforehand.

Finishing the race, feeling exhilarated. Then being queued into an endless line, shuffling along in agony, hearing only the sound of the teflon blankets draped around our shoulders rustling as we moved.

In other words, the memories seared into my brain are not about how fast or how slow I ran. They are about the experience of running with 30,000 other people, being cheered on and attended to by many thousands of others, yet being solitary and focused in the midst of all that humanity. They are not about winning and losing, the traditional measure of a race. To think of a marathon in that way – in terms of winning and losing – is to not understand the mindset of what I would guess is just about everyone except the very fastest.

Why not include everyone in the marathon party? I think it’s quite possible that the world would be a better place if more people were training to complete a 26.2 mile race. Less time for war-mongering for instance, I’m guessing.

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