Don’t Rain On My Parade!

A lack of competitiveness in younger runners is turning some races into parades

Cue the curmudgeons, chorusing “kids these days…” a line that goes back to, oh, ancient Greece or before. I’ll get around to discussing ancient Greece eventually, by the way.

If you don’t feel like perusing the entire WSJ article, the short version is that younger runners aren’t as fast as they once were, and that the “everybody wins” mentality of a lot of organized events is to blame. There’s not much discussion about whether or not this is necessarily a bad thing, although the article slants towards this trend having too many undesirable outcomes.

One of the things that I really love about running is that it is both elitist and egalitarian. It is whatever the individual runner wants it to be, and since I tend towards both of these simultaneously, I think it’s pretty much perfect. There really is something for almost everyone.

As a health care provider, who is distressed by the obesity epidemic, I want to encourage the egalitarian aspects of running. If it’s fun, and more people are getting out and moving, that’s a good thing. The color runs and fun obstacle course runs serve that purpose admirably. J&A Racing here in Virginia Beach has a series of races that are both fun and competitive. The Wicked 10K is a giant mobile costume party, and the Shamrock half and full marathons bring in a wide range of runners, from the just-over-2hour marathoners to the just-over 3hour half-marathoners.

But at the same time, I love seeing just how fast the fastest runners can fly. I think that Competitor Group Inc.’s decision to de-fund the elite purses was a terrible idea. I crossed paths with the Kenyan elites at my first Virginia Beach Rock & Roll half-marathon, and I’ll never forget how they looked going by. When I was growing up in Korea, there were a lot of little shaggy Mongolian ponies used to pull carts and wagons. One day my Mom and I saw a little pony tied up outside a noodle shop, and two horses trotted by with their riders. The pony’s eyes flared up, you could see the light go on as he realized he was also a horse, and off he went after the horses, cart clattering behind. That was how I felt that day at the Rock & Roll, that I can aspire. And, speaking of the Virginia Beach R&R, two years ago the fastest American female was a 14year old girl from Charlotte, NC, so I don’t think we need to worry too much about the younger generation.


Chris took this, one of my favorite race finish pictures, at Rock & Roll, San Antonio.

And when was I going to get around to ancient Greece, as promised earlier? The Spartan obstacle course series is a strenuous and highly competitive series of races. It is timed, and if you fail an obstacle, you are penalized by having to do 30 burpees (an evil combination of jumping jack, squat, and pushup). At some of their races, as many as a third of the competitors are unable to finish. There is definitely a “return with your shield or on it” mentality to these events. And I have to say, they look pretty cool. Doing one of them is on my to-do list for next year.

There’s a scene from the movie “300” where the Spartans are questioned as to why they only brought 300 warriors. In response, Leonidas questions the Acadians and Thespians about their professions. One is a potter, one is a builder, and so it goes. The Spartans, on the other hand, are all warriors, trained as such from birth, and even with only 300 men, they still brought the most warriors.


Me and Chris, Halloween a few years ago. This is Sparta!

There are a few minor details left out of the movie, however. The 300 Spartans didn’t stand alone at Thermopylae. They were joined by 700 Thespians, all citizen-soldiers, much like the World War II soldiers immortalized by Stephen Ambrose in “Band of Brothers”.  And there was actually quite a bit of mutual respect between the Spartans and Thespians, who exchanged cloaks and promised to be allies for eternity.

But back to the pros and cons of the slower younger runner trend. I’m not absolutely sure that the trend isn’t due to some other statistic, such as more runners attending the big commercial events, and those runners being slower, attracted by the bling of the medals and the cheers of their friends. Are the fastest runners now slower, or is it that the statistical lump in the middle of the snake has moved back? The Boston Marathon continues to raise its bar, with qualifying times becoming shorter and more difficult to achieve, yet it continues to have so many athletes qualify that it uses a rolling application process that favors the fastest of the fast. I don’t know what collegiate track and cross-country times are looking like these days, which would also be a good indicator.

At any rate, I’m still happy that running is inclusive, and that everyone can find their happy place, pace, and race, within the sport. I’ve actually written mock prescriptions for patients, for events like the Wicked 10K or Frosty’s 5K. The entry fee would be less than a 3-month supply of weight-loss medications, and they get a cool medal to keep. Shaggy little pony or glossy Arabian, there’s a place in the parade, and on the road or trail for everyone!







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