Thursday, March 24, 2011

McRunner and LA Marathon recap

McRunner, he of the 30 day McDonald's marathon meal plan, finished the LA Marathon last Sunday.  He battled hills, failing calf muscles and heavy rain in the back nine to finish in 29th place.  While he did not meet his goal of running a sub 2:36, he did finish in 2:36:14, which is still a new PR.  McRunner will be appearing in the June issue of Runner's World in a section found in each issue, the one dedicated to "interesting" runners.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Kelly Gneiting: sumo wrestler and newly christened "marathoner."  Kathleen sent me the link to the Men's Health article that describes his effort last Sunday, also at the LA Marathon.  While McRunner was showering and enjoying something not on the McDonald's menu for the first time in a month, Mr. Gneiting was still plodding through the streets of Hollywood, and would continue to do so for a total of 9 hours and 48 minutes.  While not the slowest marathoner in history, he did return home with the distinction of being the heaviest person to ever complete a marathon.  Mr. Gneiting weighs close to 400 pounds.

It brings to mind the following ad from athletic company Pearl Izumi:

This ad ran as part of a series just a year or two ago.  The ads made a clear distinction between jogging and running: jogging is the execrable province of pitiable, shuffling wannabes, while running is the fanatical dedication to speed and all that is required to attain it.  Which side are you on? they seemed to ask.  The ads ultimately caused a lot of controversy for saying what many diehards in the running community were thinking: what is happening to this sport?

Where is the line drawn?  At what point does one move from the runners to the joggers?  At what point is it more accurate to say you've completed a marathon, instead of run a marathon?

Let me first note that I applaud anyone willing to take on the marathon.  But the marathon is only the tip of the iceberg; the mental and physical exertion must extend to the training period as well. Only then can you truly give it your all and respect the marathon by actually racing it.  The greater joy in my life was found not in completing a marathon, but in completing it as fast as I could.  This is a joy many will not experience, because for many, the marathon is nothing more than a checked box on a bucket list (full disclosure: I started out as one of these people).  This is where I start to get annoyed, and will probably come off as an elitist prick, but so be it.  At some point it becomes more of a freakshow stunt than an athletic achievement: "I'll finish a marathon but I won't be bothered to put in the effort to train properly.  I'll finish in over 6 hours and let others be stunned by my perseverance.  I will tell others how I once ran a marathon even though I never ran for more than 5 minutes at a time, and I will call myself a marathoner for the rest of my life."

I suppose finishing a marathon in any time is better than never finishing one, but I hate being lumped in the same category as these people.  Unless I win any hardware, I'm just another marathon finisher, no different than the colossal Kelly Gneiting.

1 comment:

  1. It's a tough line trying to figure out how to be inclusive (and not elitist) while also maintaining the marathon as the race the most dedicated members of the sport aspire to run. I think the race should be open to anyone, whether it's just meant as a check on the bucket list or not, and there's nothing wrong with running a marathon just to see if you can do it. For all the people who crawl across the finish line with a time slower than I could have walked 26.2 miles, there are those who have discovered the competition of running. Maybe they joined a running club or a marathon-training program and learn how to properly train for such a long race, or they start with a 5K, never wanting to run a marathon, but discover they're good at running and seek ever-challenging races, or they legimitately weren't athletes, but are seeking a life change, and discovered running as a healthy activity, that, yes, really anyone can do.

    However, I think race organizers and general marathon promoters have a responsibility to uphold the image of the marathon for what it is - a long race that requires proper training and good physical health. I think cut-off times are reasonable (of course, we can debate what a "reasonable" time would be). They're practical (city streets do need to be reopened) and it sets an expectation of a reasonable completion time.

    It's true that you can run one marathon and theoretically call yourself a marathon runner the rest of your life. But I would hope those people would phrase it instead, "I ran a marathon once," just like when you're no longer able to run marathons, you'll still call yourself a runner, but will say, "I used to run marathons."

    Maybe the prestige of having run a marathon has lessened because so many more people have run one, but a quick follow-up question helps sort the mediocre from the best - What was your time?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...