Is There Really Room for All?

I’m one of those people who has a hard time falling asleep without distraction. My brain races from forgotten task, to a blog post idea I’d like to flesh out, to wondering if I have enough calories left in the day for one little fun-sized Baby Ruth. As a French friend once described a fiasco, “It’s a carnival”.

And so I listen to podcasts. I can close my eyes and have the reassuring tones of my favorite podcasts distract my thoughts and soothe me to sleep. Judge John Hodgman, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Stuff You Should Know, The Mickey Miles Podcast… I don’t always listen to The Marathon Show, but if there’s a topic I think I’d like, I give it a listen. Recently, there was a topic which I knew I shouldn’t try to listen to while falling asleep, because it’d get my poor brain racing again.

The topic was “Are Slower Runners Diminishing the Sport”.

Cue jaw clench.

I knew what side of the topic host Joe Taricani would be on. He professes to be “slow”, which is fair since he’s running with a microphone and camera, conducting interviews and on-the-spot race reports as he runs. (This is a very gregarious man).

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Check out Joe on his website, or via iTunes!

In this episode, Joe was interviewing Wall Street Journal sports editor/reporter, Kevin Hellicker who wrote an article entitled: The Slowest Generation: Younger Athletes Are Racing With Less Concern About Time. It’s an interesting, if slightly myopic view: These young whippersnappers aren’t trying hard enough. They’re molly-coddled. Giving everyone a medal just for trying dilutes the competition. I recommend that you give the episode a listen, it’s an interesting one and Kevin Hellicker really isn’t a douche.

I don’t have a huge problem with his argument. I can see why he’d think that, but I do think that the lessening of the ability to compete for young American athletes has a lot to do with socio-economic barriers to good sports programs in schools, and a cultural worship of team rather than individual sports. Plus, video games.

The comments section of the article – which I almost never read because it makes me want to both tear my hair out in frustration and pick my jaw up off the floor after considering the cruelty (and stupidity) of some of our fellow citizens – went further.

As much as we want to believe that running is a ‘community’, there are some members who see us slow runners lining up in our corrals and think “There goes the neighborhood”.

And I don’t understand it.

I don’t understand why people think that my slower effort somehow makes their faster effort less valid. And if that’s the case, then shouldn’t the only people who run in races be people who are assured of winning? If you are anything short of Meb Keflezighi, don’t even bother lacing up. You’ll only bring down the sport.

One quote in the article stood out to me.

“If you’re going to get just as much praise for doing a four-hour marathon as a three-hour, why bother killing yourself training?” asked Robert Johnson, a founder of, adding that, “It’s hard to do well in a marathon if your idea of a long session is watching season four of ‘The Wire.'”

Ok, first of all spoiler alert! I’ve never seen The Wire. Do they run a marathon in Season 4?

But second of all… you’re going to get just as much praise? Please tell me that you’re not in this for praise. Praise?? Let me assure you, non-runners who are praising your efforts don’t care about your time. They don’t. They never will, so don’t worry about it. They’re being polite. They barely care that you’ve run a marathon at all. To be honest, they’re tired of hearing about it every weekend that you’ve blown them off for brunch for the last year, and if you’re waggling your medal around looking for effort-specific praise from them, then I wish your mom hugged you more.

Why bother killing yourself training? Oh, I don’t know… because you are racing to beat your own best time or to qualify for Boston? Because you’re trying to beat that guy in the red shirt you’ve been following for 8 miles? Because that’s the point: to be your best.

YOUR best. Not my best, yours.

And by the way, I AM impressed by your time. I AM inspired by your speed. Seeing YOU pushes me to be better than I thought I could be. See? There’s that praise. You big baby.

To insinuate that people who run slower don’t do long running sessions is pretty ignorant. People who are learning to run, people who are slow put in the miles, too. You know why? Because it’s the only way to overcome the doubt. Trust me, I train. I’m not afraid to be out there in all weather for hours at a time. And know this – I’m out there way longer than you are because I am not as athletically gifted as you. I’m not as athletically gifted as an asthmatic donkey, but that’s something I’m going to have to live with.

I may sound antagonistic. I’m not trying to be, I’m really not. Its sad that some people want to take their “fast runners only” ball and go home. My suggestion to those people is, if our presence bothers you so much, run faster. You’ll be home, ice bathed and showered before we hit the bagel line. See? Motivation!

Besides, someone has to be last.

That said, I am so grateful for the supportive runners. The faster runners who, when finished, walk back along the course with their medal and shout encouragement to the rest of us mortals. They know that races can be intimidating enough for the rest of us without taking elitist attitudes from semi-elite runners. Yeah, I said it. Booyah.

One love, y’all.

What do you think? Should slow runners just quit?