I’ve been running regularly for about 10 years, and “competitively” for four. I put competitively in quotes because I fully own that I’m not a fast runner, not one of the elite. I’ve run 14 races, and I’m about to run my 15th this weekend. Two have been halfs, and three have been 10-mile races. I’ve never medaled, or even come close to being in a top five or 10 spot for my age or gender group. But I’ve improved my time for every consecutive race (within each distance category) except once, and for someone that hated running as a kid, I am pretty proud of my results. I may never run a 10k in less than 57 minutes or so, but hey, there was a time where I never thought I’d want to run a race.
So when I read a new WSJ article about how my generation is slower than ever and taking the competition out of racing, and ruining it for the veteran, fast runners, I was a little annoyed. A Running USA spokesman quoted in the article says, “Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it’s good enough just to finish.” The piece goes on to talk about how running analysts and elites are concerned that this is a trend for overall competitiveness in American sports and culture, and that the rise of events like Tough Mudders and Color Runs are diminishing the talent and results of top performers.
True, whenever I run a longer distance for the first time, my goal is to finish, or to run the whole thing. And for many new runners and experienced runners alike, sometimes the idea is just to go out and accomplish something you haven’t done before, or to experience a race, whether on your own or with friends or family. Some people run races during extreme weight loss or while battling illness. Some people like me know we will never medal, but set personal goals each time and enjoy races to challenge ourselves to a physical and mental limit not yet crossed — and the reality is that everyone’s limits and goals are different.
In a world where helicopter parents, dance moms and overbearing parents/coaches push kids too far, sometimes to the extent of injury or so that a child ends up hating an activity, shouldn’t we embrace the idea that there are more opportunities for people to take up a sport that’s generally cheap, “easy” in terms of technical ability, and can be done anywhere? Shouldn’t we be grateful that people are having fun while exercising? Even if their goal is to “finish,” isn’t that better than sitting on the couch? Yet one man quoted in the article complains that now it doesn’t seem worth working toward a three-hour marathon time instead of a four, and compares it to sitting down to a marathon TV session. I don’t think it’s fair to knock those of us who are quite happy with those longer times, if that means we accomplished something for us. Not all of us are out running for hours a day, every day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my half hour or hour-long runs as much as the next person. Perhaps I even love it more. And then I’m happy to sit down to watch a marathon of Law & Order.
For those worried that my generation is slowing you down, maybe you should think about finding new incentives and/or restrictions within the sport. On the one hand, I find it encouraging and inspiring to run in races with elite performers, but if this watering down effect is seriously a concern, then the running organizations and race organizers can surely figure out a way to make sure the best of the best are still being groomed to compete for our country on an international level. Don’t mind me — I’ll just be doing my thing around the neighborhood, one step at a time.