Monday, October 26, 2009

Run Slow, Run Fast...Just Run!

Haile Gebrselassie poses for a picture with dressed up runners before the start of the 35th Berlin marathon in 2008 (AP Photo). Shortly after this photo was taken "Geb" would go on to set the world record in the marathon. He ran 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds. He does not look bothered by the runners who seemingly have nothing in common with him. I imagine Geb being put at ease by not thinking about the 4:40 miles he would need to clip off a few minutes later. He may even be such a wise ambassador of the sport that he knew how to ham it up with the entry paying customers who help raise money for him to make a living as an elite distance runner.

I'm confident these two clowns did not come within an hour of Geb's finishing time, but all three pictured are smiling and look as if nothing can disrupt their great morning. These clowns are every bit as much runners as Haile Gebrselassie.

I was inspired to dig up the picture above thanks to a NY Times article about slower runners somehow making the marathon less than it once was.

Quite an outpouring of support for all marathoners has ensued online and I immediately recalled the wide-smiling fastest runner on the planet with arms around two mortals. The elitest and arrogant comments in the NY Times article seem to claim that to run and walk over the course of 26.2 miles or to simply run slowly is somehow of less worth than those type A folks like myself who rarely smile and count every second until the finish line is crossed. The first thing to remember is that there is always somebody faster than you, so watch what you say. I'm okay locally, but regionally and nationally, I get smoked in every race I enter and so will you--on some playing field, someday. Fast is a subjective term and hardly the point of what makes a runner.

Moreover, I'm envious of those who are unmarried to their watches or less married. I never think of runners with slower paces as somehow less connected to the tag "runner" than I am. Whenever I make a running acquaintance, be it at a race or a customer that I am helping find a shoe that fits, and they say some version of, "well, I'm slow, not like you," I never let it go. I always take issue with such remarks. While I can self-depricate with the best of them, there is no room for thinking that pace is what determines the merit of each of us a runner. If you are out there for the love of the sport, for any of it's varied merits, YOU ARE A RUNNER.

Who cares if marathon times have slacked over the last few decades as measured by the median recreational runner. Childhood and adult obesity statistics are reaching alarming numbers and they won't decrease if the goal of the running community is to recreate a time when less people ran faster. We need more people to run as part of lifestyle values centered on activity and healthy living. Do you have any idea how many more calories are burned in a four hour marathon effort versus Geb's nearly two hour world record mark? That's right, about twice as many, and that's from a humanities guy. But even I can handle multiples of two. In 1999 Khalid Khannouchi remarked after setting the then world record at the Chicago Marathon that the real heroes were the folks out there for five and six hours. They had much bigger concerns in terms of stamina and hydration than he did in just over two hours.

Running snobs beware. We are looking out for you and we hope that slower times don't find their way to you, but they will. I guess as age and speed loss catches up with you, you will have to take up competitive remote controlling, because according to your arrogance, you will no longer be running in a truly pristine fashion. I hope you will change your tune and keep running in healthy form and if need be, a slow and steady pace.
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