The duty of care of journalists may seem like an odd issue to take up in a running blog, but sadly is a reality.
Over the summer, Time magazine, perhaps one of the most respected publications in our nation, published a cover story entitled "Why Exercise Won't Make you Thin." It was full of poorly researched "facts" and misrepresentations and was ridiculed, rightly so, by many health and exercise professionals, my personal trainer included. Yes, some people use exercise to justify their eating habits, we're all guilty of this, but if therr statement were true, then how I have lost at least 10 lbs while building muscle over the last year?
Yesterday, the New York Times, again a highly regarded publication, published an article by Juliet Macur on its front page entitled "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?" In it, Ms. Macur interviewed marathoners who feel that slow runners, and those incapable of running every single step of the 26.2 miles do not belong in the field and take away from the accomplishments of those who can. While Ms. Macur interviews well known runner John Bingham (aka "The Penguin"), who defends the slow and average runners, her thesis and intent is clear - if you can't complete a marathon in 4 hours or less, you don't belong there and shouldn't be trying it in the first place.
Both of these articles are examples of irresponsible journalism especially in an age where the obesity rate in our country continues to climb. As has been pointed out on the most recent season of the Biggest Loser, the contestants from season to season keep getting bigger, not smaller. Rather than acknowledge the effort and personal accomplishments of individuals who strive to better themselves, Ms. Macur is depicting the running community as elitist and unwelcoming. Forutnately, my experience has shown this to be far from the truth.
Yes, I am a proud "back of the pack" runner. I work out 4-5 days a week, and still my body will not let me maintain a sub 13 minute pace on long runs. Is this my fault? No. Have I ever been criticized for it? No.
Yes, I run as well as walk in races of all distances, from 5K's to half marathons. I plan to do this in January's marathon as well. Following Jeff Galloway's run/walk intervals has made me a better runner both mentally and physically. If I continued pushing myself to the limit as I had back in June 2008 when I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, who knows how many injuries I would have had to date. Walking during a race is good for you. Don't forget, Galloway is a former olympian, so he knows a thing or two about running.
Yes, I'm sure there are marathon pureists who look down on me for doing the Disney Marathon, and who probably don't consider it a true race given the location, etc. That's exactly why I chose it for my first marathon, I was looking for a complete experience. I try not to take myself too seriously at times, so why should this be any different? I want to enjoin it. I don't want to have such a negative experience that I would never want to do a marathon again. And yes, I am considering a second marathon next fall, one that is more of a "traditional" one. My experience at Disney though will be the building blocks for making it through that one. You only have one first marathon.
Most of the time while I am in the final stretch of the race, I am passed by people wearing their finisher's medals/or premiums and walking in the opposite direction on the way back to their cars. They have finished the race, enjoyed the post race festivities, and are heading home, all while I am still toiling away. Knowing this can be hard when I see them, but as they walk past me, do they shout things like "What do you think you're doing?" or "You don't belong here."? No, they offer nothing but support and encouragement, which is more than often greatly needed as your body and mind are ready to quit. I once even had someone who had finished the 5K course we were doing run the final stretch in with me. He and his buddies had all finished long before me. He had no reason to be standing by the finish line at that point other than just purely wanting to support everyone coming in.
This is the true nature of the running community, and one in which I am proud to be a member of. My involvement in this community began long before I ever started or even considered running. I started as a volunteer, primarily at the B&A Trail Marathon. Despite the harsh weather conditions in March, we would never close down our water stop (usually the next to last one on the course) until that last runner came through. When he/she came through, we all stood and proudly cheered for them, hoping our spirit would help carry them on to the finish.
What bothers me most, and is the most insulting, is the insinuation that the "plodders" don't take these races or training seriously. Ms. Macur writes, "Slow runners have disrespected the distance, they say, and have ruined the marathon’s mystique." Really!?!? Yes, I will admit there are some people who think they can do a marathon, sign up for it, and then do nothing before race day. This is a fraction of a percent though. The rest are like me, following thorough training plans, and documenting every step over the 4-6 months before race day. They're like me, getting up at 4:30 on a Saturday morning after a long work week, trying to beat the sun in the summer and bear the cold in the winter for hours at a time.
I want to know if Ms. Macur has ever run 18 hilly, winding miles in 40 degree wind chills in the pouring rain as I did this past Saturday. If she had, I guarantee she would not have written that statement. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I've ever done, but pure grit and determination, and the support of my running family, pulled me through. Not only did at least one person stay with me during those nearly 4 1/2 hours, but when I made it back to the parking lot, they were there, honking car horns in celebration for me. I nearly cried, as if I had I just finished an entire marathon. If I can do 18 miles in those conditions, 26.2 is completely achievable.
This Sunday, I am running the 10K that is taking place in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon. After my race is done, I will meet up with friends and proceed to the marathon course. I will stand there for the remainder of the race, and I will be cheering for all. Everyone has a story and a journey that has brought them there, and it deserves to be acknowledged.