Today we’re re-running a debate we had back in April. Ginger wrote about the time she ran a marathon completely unprepared and contemplated what it means to say you “ran a marathon.” Is there really a difference between those who’ve run 100+ mile weeks and those who’ve run 25 or less in prep for their big day? Is there a difference between racing and “just” finishing a marathon? Is the difference a matter of finishing time? Amount of preparation? Attitude? Are you an elitist jerk just for contemplating this issue? A little later I’ll post my own rebuttal to Ginger and then after that Ginger’s rebuttal to my rebuttal. It was the first time we Salties disagreed, but it most certainly wasn’t the last! This post was originally published on April 16, 2012.
With Boston on our minds today, I can’t help but think about the time I did a marathon. It was back in the fall of 2004, my senior year of college. I had no clue what I was doing. I started training for it in the summer but gave up going further with the training after my longest run of 12 miles in July. I vaguely remember anything after that and quite honestly don’t know what compelled me to toe the line way under trained. If I had to guess, this was right around the time marathon running started showing up more frequently on bucket lists. With graduation approaching, I figured then was the best time to achieve this goal before entering the elusive real world.
I ran the first 6 miles easy and then followed a walk 1 mile and run 2 miles rhythm until about 20 miles. At that point, I started walking more. By mile 25, I just wanted to be done, so I starting
jogging limping toward the finish line. As I rounded the last corner and entered the stadium, I began sobbing, but told myself those were tears of joy, for I had accomplished my goal. Or did I?
My original goal, as stated to myself, was to run a marathon. I ran parts of it. In all, about 12 miles, equal to my longest training run. I still finished it though, so I could say that I ran a marathon.
But I won’t.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly proud of my ability to complete 26.2 miles in 4 hours and 29 minutes, under trained and inexperienced. And as painful as it got, this journey was quite enjoyable. However, I now know a little bit more about what it takes to train for a marathon and what it means to run one. It’s not easy by any means. In fact, the idea of running a marathon and more specifically qualifying for Boston, is less appealing to me now than it was a few years ago because it is such a time consuming and challenging process. If there is anything I learned from my first marathon experience, it is that if I had to
run jog/walk 26.2 miles to survive, I probably could do it.
Recently, there was a forum on Letsrun that referenced a Wall Street Journal article about 5, 6, and 7+ hour marathoners calling themselves marathon runners. With the marathon’s rise, this has become a hot topic, especially over at Letsrun, where the definition of a hobby jogger is debated crudely and weekly. On one end of the spectrum, you have the runners who are easily offended when a 6 hour marathoner claims to have run a marathon. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the runners who could care less about the technicality of a word and support anyone who is out there trying to better themselves. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am in the middle of this debate.
Whatever your times may be, it’s human nature to want to be validated. This validation can come in many different forms. For the majority of us who don’t get paid to run, the need for validation may become higher. Some of us surround ourselves with fellow runners for camaraderie. Others look to Facebook to share recent workouts and race stats. And the darkest of us love to criticize others. I would also be lying if I didn’t say that I might have felt the need to criticize a 6 hour marathoner in order to validate the 40 miles a week I put in this winter. And 40 isn’t even a lot of miles in the competitive training world! However, these criticisms usually come after a long day filled with aches and pains where by the end of the day, I’m questioning myself why I’m even running at all.
When I snap out of my dark place, I swing toward the other side of the spectrum to support anyone who is out there chasing a dream, no matter how long it takes them to complete 26.2 miles. In fact, I hold this view most of the time (thankfully). But one of the greatest challenges in life is learning to live in a both/and kind of world instead of an either/or kind of world. Such black and white thinking not only makes you grumpy and negative but it keeps you in that dark place for good. As such, there’s a place for fast and slow in the marathon. I still won’t say that I ran a marathon because to me, I didn’t. But if you just did one in 6 hours and 30 minutes, I won’t be mad if you tell me you “JUST RAN A MARATHON!” on your Facebook status. I’d probably congratulate you and have a brief moment where I remember the day I lined up to experience my own 26.2 mile adventure.
Where do you stand in this popular debate?