Today, I am going to use those 50 marathon events as examples of why doing something like that is impressive. The reason that I feel a need to mention this is because Adeel at Complete Running thinks that 50 marathons is not impressive at all. Adeel has a very well thought out article, and I recommend that you read it in full. However, I think that he is interpreting the news in completely the wrong way. To keep this (somewhat) brief, I am going to only concentrate on one facet of why I disagree with Adeel’s stance, since some of the other reasons are appearing in the comments of that thread and I do not want to write something that will take 30 minutes to read.
Popular running culture values doing something far more than doing something well. There is no doubt that running 50 marathons in 50 days is a very athletic accomplishment, but how impressive is it really? Running 182 miles a week at 9-minute miles, the speed at which Sam Thompson reportedly ran his marathons, is not exceedingly impressive. Running 5,000 metres in less than 13 minutes, on the other hand, is infinitely harder. Those who do the latter can no doubt do the former, but the former could not do the latter.
The (very) abbreviated argument that Adeel has is that in the running industry we ignore the actual accomplishments of our elite runners and instead focus on the mundane efforts of back of the packers in general and on the extreme accomplishments that those people can accomplish in specific. We are more impressed by somebody running a marathon than by somebody running a marathon in half the time as somebody else. Not only do we ignore the elite performances, but it can sometimes be difficult to even find out about them.
As an assessment of how things stand, I agree with Adeel. You do not hear enough about the world records or with the great races that happen every week at the international and local levels. The news is usually about middle of the packers who have just finished their first race. For example, in college I had a subscription to the Boston based Christian Science Moniter. They had a full page devoted to telling stories and to the results of the Boston Marathon. The first two sentences let their readers know who won the race on both the male and female side, and the rest of the page was about how great some of the people who bandited the race were. I promptly cancelled my subscription, but that’s a story for another time.
The point is, people can not relate to elite runners.
It is much easier for an American (or their children) to break into another professional sport such as Baseball or Football than it is into running professionally. Football and baseball teams have great programs set up starting at the pre-adolescent stage that teach the children how to play the sports, and are very popular at every level from high school up through college and to the pros. Most children are not exposed to any running sports until middle school or high school. After college, there is no draft to have an opportunity to learn the fine points of their professional sports before they are expected to perform.
You have to be talented and dedicated enough when you graduate from college (or before) or you will have almost no chance of becoming a professional runner in the country. There is nowhere near the support system to allow you to learn what you need to do before you can make enough to earn a living at it.
There is also more international competition to become an elite athlete. The American lifestyle lends itself towards obesity and laziness compared to some of the international power houses. Americans drive and are driven anywhere they need to go. They rarely walk everywhere. There are no state sponsored running camps designed to beat our bodies into mush to see who can be let out of the country to bring home the top prize money.
Except for sponsored athletes, there is no money without a win of some sort. It may not need to be first place, but it is still outside the realm of what most people can do. What people can do, however, is run in their spare time. They can do well as an age-grouper in local races. They can train for and finish a marathon.
This brings us back to the story about the Christian Science Moniter. It would have been much better if the story had at least been about legal runners and not people that were helping create an unsafe situation for others, but the point is that they told the runners’ stories. The readers of the newspaper could relate to the people in the article. They could imagine, “if only I got off my ass, I could do that” in their daydreams. And, the truth is, they could get off of their asses and go run a marathon.
We want to hear stories that we can relate to. We want to hear stories about a man who is helping to rebuild the hurricane damage, or about a man who tests the limits of human endurance but still holds down a day job. When Sam or Dean go out and run 50 marathons in 50 days, they are not doing something that just anybody could do. Paul Tergat might be able to do it, but he would have a much harder time training for it and accomplishing it than I would. Well, he would have a much tougher time if he had to work or if I didn’t have to work, anyway. But I am usually about 45 minutes to an hour slower than Tergat, and even I have trouble slowing down.
I have nothing but respect for somebody that goes out and runs a 6 hour marathon. My slowest marathon was around 3 hours and 40 minutes, and it was torture. It was much easier to run an even three hours. I can not imagine being out there for twice as long. For somebody like Tergat to run 50 marathons in a row at 9 minute pace would be absolute torture.
I do not think that it is fair to say that going out and running 50 marathons, or even one marathon, is not impressive. The more stories that people hear, the more that others will try to finish one themselves. And the more people that we get into the sport, the more that will begin to pay attention to the local, national, and international racing scene. The attention will come when there is a critical mass, but there is no way to get that critical mass by ignoring normal folks. The fact is, getting out and training for and finishing a marathon is a lot of work. Just because it is possible for most people does not mean that it is possible while being lazy. You have to sweat and put in the time. And anybody that is willing to work at something like that deserves a little praise. They might even have an interesting story to tell.
I ramble a bit, but that’s what happens when you piece a few different random thoughts together and spread it out over 12 hours without much editing time.