It’s an interesting time in the running community. We get closer to breaking a 2-hour marathon, a superhuman feat if there ever was one. At the same time, we’ve never been slower—a recent study by RunRepeat.com shows that average finishing times across all race distances have dropped significantly since the 1990s.
But does that make the back of the pack any less superhuman than the ones breaking the tape?
Some runners think so. After the RunRepeat study, there was quite a bit of disdain directed toward the slower runners for sandbagging what used to be a speedy sport. Slow runners are used to catching this kind of grief—they’re dropped at group runs and mocked on social media. The fast ones blame the slowpokes for ruining the integrity of the sport—it is a race, after all. Why not, you know, actually race?
After my first 5K, I excitedly texted my friend, Carlos, with news of my accomplishment. He got me into the sport, so I thought he’d be excited to hear I crossed the finish line of a race. When my phone buzzed, I looked down to read his reply: “45 MINUTES?!? What did you do, SKIP?” (In case it isn’t already clear, Carlos is one of the fast ones.)
I eventually got faster, but I never became fast. I’m an average runner. I’ll never win a marathon, and I’ll certainly never come close to completing one in 2 hours, but that doesn’t mean I’m not racing. I am— just against myself. And trust me: When I cross that finish line, I feel superhuman.
And that’s the thing we forget when we ask slow runners why they don’t “actually race.” They do. Their competition is the clock, that runner just ahead of them, the weather, that son-of-a-gun hill, the fear, the haters or the voice that says, you can’t.
We can, and we do. To think all of the athletes on the course should be running for the exact same reason is to ignore some of the most important motivations to run.
So let’s all relax and quit picking on the plodders. At the end of the day, we’re all runners, regardless of mile splits or PRs. If you ask me, the coolest thing about our sport is not the 2-hour marathon. It’s the fact that 3 hours later, there are still winners crossing the finish line.