Sunday, November 04, 2007

Respect the distance...

Some of you may have read the Salon article by supposedly one of our own, a one-time marathoner, saying how Oprah and the Penguin ruined the marathon. The author also goes on to blame average runners for ruining the sport. Huh?

After a few liberal cut and pastes from his story, here are a few quick rebuttals to Mr. Edward McClelland:

With all these runners, and all this technology, you'd think America would be turning out faster and faster marathoners. Instead, the opposite is happening. The more we run marathons, the slower we get -- an average of 45 minutes slower over the last 25 years. Ryan Hall is the swiftest American-born marathoner ever. His best race isn't in the top 250 of all time.


What does turning out faster marathoners have to do with the mass population?

Hall is running in this weekend's other New York marathon: Saturday's Olympic Trials in Central Park. Don't expect to see him on the victory stand in Beijing, though. Since Shorter retired, only one American man has won a medal in the marathon: Meb Keflezighi, who grew up in Eritrea, where he didn't see a car until he was 10 years old. You can look at this as a triumph of the melting pot, or you can look at it as soft Americans relying on an immigrant to do their arduous running.

So he isn't an American? Even though he's been there for a dog's age. Wow, you have a long time to go before you accept the difference between an American and an.... American. By the way, I'm sure you'll be eating crow during the Olympics.

It makes me ask: Has this country's marathoning spirit been trampled by hordes of joggers whose only goal is to stagger across the finish line?

You could argue that there was no marathoning spirit in in the past when hardly anyone ran it.

After high school, I was a decent recreational runner -- I could break 20 minutes in the 5K -- but somehow, I got it in my mind that I wouldn't be a real runner until I did a marathon. Too lazy, too cocky or too ignorant to do heavy mileage in training, I finished the Chicago Marathon in an ignominious 4 hours and 16 minutes, alternating between cramping and nausea the last four miles. Embarrassed, I resolved to try again, but then a knee problem limited my runs to 10 miles.

Perhaps you didn't respect the distance. In fact, we can argue that you didn't race it because you were too lazy, ignorant and cocky (your words) to train.

I had to give up marathoning just as everyone else was getting into it. Not just the rest of the running world. Everyone. The mid-1990s gave us two new long-distance heroes. The first was Oprah Winfrey. If Frank Shorter inspired the first running boom, Oprah inspired the second, by running the Marine Corps Marathon. And it was a much bigger boom. This was not a spindly 24-year-old Yalie gliding through Old World Munich. This was a middle-aged woman hauling her flab around the District of Columbia. If Oprah could run a marathon, shame on anyone who couldn't.

Let me get this straight: "Everyone." Stats in 2006 say that 397,000 marathon finishing times were recorded in America. I'll even let you posit that among that number, no one ran more than one marathon. Now, 397,000 divided by 300,000,000 equals.... everyone. And do I detect a hint of arrogance? "I did it before you so I'm better." (even if I by my own admission had an embarrassing time).

When Oprah expanded the sport, she also lowered the bar for excellence. For the previous generation of marathoners, the goal had been qualifying for Boston. Now, it was beating Oprah. Her time of four hours and 29 minutes -- the Oprah Line -- became the new benchmark for a respectable race. (That was P. Diddy's goal when he ran New York.)

Should we mention how Boston has also amended its 'fastest' qualification standard over the years.. 3:00, 2:50, 3:10. What about when it made changes so runners in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s can have a more level playing field? Should you now accuse Boston of lowering the bar?

Once the supreme test for hardened runners, the marathon became a gateway into the sport. Soon, gravel paths were crowded with 5-mile-an-hour joggers out to check "26.2 miles" off their life lists.

I don't see what's wrong with this. So we should all stay away from road races, you say.

The guru of these new runners was an ex-music professor named John Bingham, who writes a Runner's World column under the handle "the Penguin." At age 43, Bingham took the admirable step of throwing away his cigarettes and signing up for a race. Unlike Bill Rodgers, he was not headed for athletic glory.

Um, who other than an elite is looking for athletic glory. Yeah, even those elites do it for themselves.. what's wrong with that.

He finished dead last. Bingham did not respond by training harder. Instead, he embraced his God-given lack of talent -- and urged readers to do the same. Absolving runners of the pressure to actually run was a brilliant feel-good message. Thanks to his book, "No Need for Speed," Bingham became the most celebrated marathoner in America. (If you don't believe me, go to the marathon starting chute and ask the runners if they've ever heard of Ryan Hall. Then ask about the Penguin.)

Don't think he actually says that people should not run. Then it wouldn't be running. I've read many a Bingham column and I don't think he ever mentioned NOT running. Yeah, we've also heard of Ryan.

I just didn't get it. After my knee injury, I'd returned to the 5K. I pushed myself into the pain zone, puked after races, and fought my way back down to 20 minutes -- a far more satisfying feat than a four-hour marathon. I was doing all I could do, with what I still had. Yet here was a man whose legs would carry him 26 miles, and he was content to stop for walking breaks.

Okay, so you think getting back to a 20 minute 5K is more satisfying than a four-hour marathon, something you have yet to do. Yeah, I'd rather not train 18 weeks to run a strong marathon too... "I was doing all I could do, with what I still had..." and marathoners don't? You must have hit the wall so hard last time it left you with a huge memory lapse.

Like Oprah, Bingham deserves praise for luring insecure, overweight novices off their couches and into running shoes. He's also terrific for business. In the last 15 years, the Chicago Marathon field has increased tenfold, to 45,000. But with this change in the running culture, the average finishing time for men has dropped from 3:32 to 4:15 -- not far from the Oprah Line, or my own performance.
Ever thinking of looking at other factors that may have changed the average finishing time? Like age and gender? Oh, it's too hard to look up that info, right?

Last month's Chicago Marathon had to be shut down mid-race, because undertrained five- and six-hour marathoners couldn't handle that much time in the 85-degree heat.

This is such a stupid throwaway point that it's not worthing talking about. Heat hit everyone who were not elites. That's 99.9% of the field.

You can't just blame the Penguin Brigade for messing up the curve. The last year an American-born man won a major marathon? 1983. (We have produced one first-class female marathoner -- Deena Kastor has won in Chicago and London -- although we're still waiting for another Joan Benoit Samuelson, gold medalist at the first Olympic women's marathon, in 1984.)

Uh huh, and the Americans didn't win a basketball Olympic gold last time out, which means you need to write an article about the death of basketball in America. And how you used to play basketball before they invented slam dunks and Nike shoes.

"When the attitude simply becomes to finish, that attitude becomes pervasive," says an old marathoner. "The marathon was once this incredible challenge, to finish it and to finish as fast as you can. I just think there's a mind-set out there about the marathon, and it's a different mind-set from 25 years ago."


"finish it and to finish it as fast as you can": Don't think things have changed that much. Lets not dilute the entire marathoning public cause it's dishonest.

If the marathon is populist enough for everyone to pin on a number, it's also populist enough for everyone to kick ass. If you're running the New York City Marathon this weekend, remember, it's a race. True, no matter how hard you push, you're not going to win a gold medal. But maybe a kid in high school will, someday. If the pack can drag the best runners back, we can push them forward, too.

And how do you propose people kick ass? By sprinting the first 3 miles.... yeah, you haven't read up on lactate thresholds haven't you?

I'm ready to do my part. My bum knee just carried me through a half-marathon. Next spring, I'm going the full distance -- and I'm going to do it in the spirit of the first running boom, in under three and a half hours. I may even wear a cotton T-shirt and a sweatband.

You mean this half marathon result, Ted? Running is a very public event. You're out there. And you've just pledged to us (after slamming marathoning in general) that you'll knock 45 minutes off your marathon time? Please respect the distance, because your article showed you have a little relearning to do before you join the masses well in the middle of the pack on race day. Look around, and shake your head at the rest of us. Because we won't really notice you're there. We're there to run our own race. And use some Body Glide or Vaseline for goodness sake if you're going to wear a cotton T-shirt.

More runners are sounding off, like Lee, Bex, and another one here.

6 comments:

Lee said...

After reading your thoughtful dissection, may I offer a condensed, New York-style rebuttal to Mr. McClelland's argument:

Up yours, jerk.

Jeff said...

I wanted to say "$%^& your mother" to him, but it's not her fault and I have slightly more class than that, so I just told him to kiss my ass. Altogether, your rebuttal is a bit more considered than mine.

Sonia said...

Yeah what an ass!!!

Mary said...

I love your point-by-point takedown of this creep!

BTW, how do you know those half-marathon results are his? I know he goes by Ted, but all those races were in Chicago and I thought he lived in Michigan, so I'm just curious.

Mary said...

Oh, that's awesome that you found his race photos. Nice detective work!

yumke said...

He's getting lots of backlash and it looks like he was on CBC earlier today and tonight on the Sunday show.

I looked up his photo on his website and compared it to marathonfoto.com. Yep, our buddy is Ted from Chicago. It appears he ran his last half with someone else so maybe he's faster than the 2 hour plus half.. whatever, between a half and a full there is a world of difference (and pain)