The Everyman: Everyone Is A Runner

If you're competing for time and place, get into an earlier start wave. Photo:

These days, competing in endurance sports is the thing to do.

It’s been a few days since the Wall Street Journal posted this story.

If you haven’t read it, give it a look and then come back. I’ll wait.

OK, here’s the deal: According to research the WSJ cites, finishing times are plummeting in the wrong direction. So despite all the technological advances we have in shoes and gear, runners are finishing races with slower times.

According to the story, the average finishing time for men’s marathon runners has gone up 44 minutes from 1980 through 2011.

That’s a pretty big jump.

Now it’s true that the elites are getting faster, but Johnny Runner’s times are skyrocketing. Why?

For one, there are a lot more people doing races today. Exercising has become trendy. Others want to run for a cause. Performance isn’t a widespread priority.

New races are popping up almost every day, such as the new Ragnar Trail Relay that was announced on Wednesday. But this is all good stuff. The more opportunities people have to get out and run (and/or swim, bike, run, if that’s your thing), the better. I won’t go on about the benefits of exercise because they’re obvious.

A lot of participants in these endurance events, whether they’re running a 5K, marathon, adventure race or anything else, don’t care about where they finish. All they want to do is finish. And if that means walking for 13 miles of a marathon because they didn’t do a long run of more than 10 miles during their training (I’m talking to you, Pamela Anderson), then so be it.

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Clearly we have two distinct groups of amateur athletes out there today: The competitive ones who push themselves to achieve a PR, and the folks who just want to finish and enjoy the experience.

There’s nothing wrong with either group. I’ve only been competing in endurance sports for about five years and I started in the “finisher” group. But I’ve since moved up to the competitive group. Both have their benefits.

Did I yearn for some more time to have a life when I was training for my half-Ironman over the summer? Sometimes I did. But was all the training worth it when I exceeded my time goal for the race? It sure was.

My advice: Choose your races wisely. Your annual Turkey Trot, for example, is filled with people who run twice a year: on race day, and once about three days before it to “train” for it. A race like the Boston Marathon, however, which has strict qualifying rules, is on the other end of the spectrum. Same with half-Ironman and Ironman races: you’re not going to see anyone running with their dog or anyone who spent less than a week training for the race.

If you’re competing in a bigger marathon or road race, get into an earlier, appropriate start wave for your ability to stay ahead of the “finishers.” You’ll be able to run your race, and they’ll have room for theirs.

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