The running community has a lot to say about Ryan Hall’s decision to pull out of the NYC Marathon.
“Put a fork in him.”
“I wish I was an elite runner with a posh sponsorship deal and NEVER had to race!”
“I always hear how great he is but never hear about him winning.”
“Taking the easy way out!”
“Here we go again …”
When it was announced that Ryan Hall dropped out of next weekend’s ING New York City Marathon due to injury, the comments on Competitor‘s Facebook page were pretty intense. While many found the news to be disappointing, some were titillated by the opportunity to bash Hall.
I can understand why there’s some scorn. After all, he’s pulled out of more races lately than he’s actually started. But as someone who is going on 15 months of injury rehabilitation, I feel bad for the guy. I’ve pulled out of races due to injury — and no one really knew, or even cared for that matter. Hall, on the other hand, has to endure humiliation on a national level. It’s got to suck to be in his shoes right now. Why kick him when he’s down?
This isn’t the first time schadenfreude has reared its ugly head in our sport. When former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau pulled out of September’s Berlin Marathon due to a knee injury, people were quick to assume he was not injured, but merely scared of racing Wilson Kipsang. People criticized Desi Davila for pulling out of this year’s Boston Marathon due to a stress fracture. That bears repeating: A stress fracture. It’s not quite the situation in where “suck it up, buttercup” is appropriate advice.
What gives? As much as we try to avoid it, injury (and re-injury) in running is more often the rule, not the exception. Some 60 percent of runners (or more) become injured each year, causing many athletes — age-groupers and professionals alike — to withdraw from races. Sometimes, experts can identify and treat an injury quickly, but other times the rehabilitation process is a long and stressful one.
So why are we so hard on the pros who pull out of races? Are we so harsh on our own friends who can’t race because of an injury? Probably not. We’d more likely be on their doorstep with an aqua-jogging belt and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Everyone loves a good comeback story. We want people like Hall do what we think we’d do in the same situation. When they don’t comply with our armchair quarterbacking, smugness takes over: He had it coming. What an idiot.
But armchair quarterbacking is a dangerous venture. The reality is we just don’t know how we’d handle a situation such as injury until we’re actually in those shoes. Ask anyone who’s had an injury requiring months (or even years) to heal. When everyone suddenly becomes a expert on your particular injury (including those who aren’t doctors, coaches, or even runners), it can get pretty overwhelming.
In spite of what some might type while shielded by a username and avatar, Ryan Hall isn’t necessarily taking the easy way out. This is where the real work begins for him. Not only does Hall have to rebuild his body and retool his plan (again), but he also has to do it in plain view of schadenfreude junkies, circling like vultures in hopes that he’ll fail.
Maybe Ryan Hall will make an epic comeback, maybe not. Only time will tell. But today, one thing is for certain: it’s time to cut him some slack, let the guy do things his way, and pass the Ben & Jerry’s.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke