Dennis wrote an article over at Complete Running asking, “is it okay for elite athletes to drop out of races?”

I’ve seen this happen in a lot of races in the last few years, from 10Ks to major marathons and it’s something I’ll never understand. To me, it shows not just a lack of commitment but a lack of respect for the other runners in the race. […] I can only assume it’s because track and field and road racing isn’t a major spectator sport, so the athletes know that the consequences of quitting are few, if any. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these runners should keep going if they’re actually injured or ill. No one would advocate that.)

In my opinion, it depends upon the circumstances. If an elite athlete is being paid an appearance fee to run a race, then the only DNFs should come from an actual illness or injury. However, if they are not getting an appearance fee and need to actually win the race in order to get their cash, and they are convinced that they will be unable to do so, then it doesn’t bother me if they drop out.

I might lose a little respect for somebody for dropping out because it was too cold, as in the example that Dennis provides. I wouldn’t lose too much respect, however, if it was too cold and not only would they would be unable to win, but pressing on would prevent them from winning their race the next week. As somebody who has won a minimal amount of money racing so far, I would not begrudge their pay day.

Elite athletes don’t casually run a few local races. They travel across the country and across the world for months at a time to both train and to compete. An elite or semi-elite marathoner may run a half dozen marathons or more in any given year; most amateur marathoners will only run one or two. That being said, if somebody makes a habit of dropping out of a race as soon as things do not go well, then I would expect that not only would their career be stunted by an inability to perform, but they would probably lose their sponsors fairly easily as well.

Dennis also touches upon the differences between amateur and elite athletes.

There’s a perception among recreational runners that one of the main things that separates us from the elites is the ability of those at the top of our sport to tough it out, to endure more pain than we can. […] To a one, elite runners are possessed of incredibly efficient cardiovascular systems. Their lungs and hearts work in concert to process and deliver oxygen and blood to their overtaxed muscles at a rate that the systems of mere mortals simply cannot achieve. That’s just simple genetics. […] However, the combination of their membership in the lucky sperm club and their training does not make these athletes any tougher or more determined than you or me.

I would say that there is a bigger difference between whether or not they can gut out the distance. Elite athletes will generally tend to have more efficient cardiovascular systems than the majority (but not all) of the amateur athletes that they meet. Nobody who was not at least athletically inclined would be able to make a career in any professional sport. The largest advantage that elite athletes have over amateurs, though, is that they have more time to train. More importantly, they have more time to rest.

Amateur athletes have to hold down jobs, and even sitting behind a desk can be exhausting. Amateur athletes have to schedule their workouts around their work schedules and their family schedules, while professionals can generally just need to schedule their work around their family. A professional athlete may very well work much harder than somebody that sits in front of a computer, but the person that sits in front of a computer may spend nearly as much time actually exercising as the elite athlete.

Those are my two cents on the issues in the article. What do you think? If you saw an elite athlete in a race and knew that they had dropped out of another race the week before, would you make fun of them? Or would you cheer for them?