This article makes me angry. I mean, when I read it I saw RED. My face got hot and my blood started boiling. The title alone pissed me off because I knew where the writer was going: “How Oprah Ruined the Marathon” I knew this writer was going to start criticizing the fact that everyone runs marathons now. It’s a goal people actually fine attainable. And I knew this person was about to insult that.
I don’t know where to begin breaking down Mr. McClelland’s article and the way it angers me. But, we’ll start with this paragraph which might have upset me the most:
Like Oprah, Bingham deserves praise for luring insecure, overweight novices off their couches and into running shoes. He’s also terrific for business. In the last 15 years, the Chicago Marathon field has increased tenfold, to 45,000. But with this change in the running culture, the average finishing time for men has dropped from 3:32 to 4:15 — not far from the Oprah Line, or my own performance. Last month’s Chicago Marathon had to be shut down mid-race, because undertrained five- and six-hour marathoners couldn’t handle that much time in the 85-degree heat.
First of all – if you don’t know who Bingham is – take a quick moment to go here. Damn. The site’s down. Save it for later. Essentially he mainstreamed the marathon by making everyone believe that if he could do it? Then they could. He sells t-shirts on his site that say things like “Who Cares If I’m Slow.” (Which, for the record, is a depressing thing to see mobs of people passing you wearing.)
So, essentially this author is first saying that the droves of novices that Bingham brought to the sport is a bad thing. But he’s also saying that the disaster at the Chicago Marathon is the fault of the novices? Pardon me for saying so, but when I read the reports about that marathon being cut, there were just as many seasoned runners in those first-aid tents as there were novices. And I know one of those runners who did not want to quit. (For the record, she finally became a marathoner here. Go tell her congrats.) And I hate the contempt in the voice of this author for those people. For MY people. I finished my marathon in an embarrassingly slow time. I mean, Oprah would have run laps around me. But does that mean that my participation lessens the integrity of the sport?
He ends the article with this:
If the marathon is populist enough for everyone to pin on a number, it’s also populist enough for everyone to kick ass. If you’re running the New York City Marathon this weekend, remember, it’s a race. True, no matter how hard you push, you’re not going to win a gold medal. But maybe a kid in high school will, someday. If the pack can drag the best runners back, we can push them forward, too.
You know what? Who is this guy to try to act like that just because my time is slow doesn’t mean I’m kicking ass? Anyone who crosses that finish line is kicking ass. This guy wants to blame the lack of a US marathon hero on the masses of us novice/walkers on the course. And that makes no sense. Yes, the average has gone down. But that’s mathematically expected when more novices jump in. I can’t imagine the woman in the front of the pack in Nashville saw me in the back of the pack and thought, “You know? That curly-haired girl is going slow. I’m going to slow down too.”
The idea that anyone in our increasingly unhealthy culture can actually point negatively to the newfound popularity of marathon running makes me laugh. And I love that he’s passive aggresive about his insulting with such wonderful statements as:
I just didn’t get it. After my knee injury, I’d returned to the 5K. I pushed myself into the pain zone, puked after races, and fought my way back down to 20 minutes — a far more satisfying feat than a four-hour marathon. I was doing all I could do, with what I still had. Yet here was a man whose legs would carry him 26 miles, and he was content to stop for walking breaks.
Mr. McClelland, I apologize that those of us out there who take walking breaks are such a bother to you and your bum knee. It is unfortunate you blame us “Penguins” (It’s a Bingham term) for the low average like it’s a black mark on your precious marathon. I’m sorry if this newfound love for running by couch potatoes over the country takes away the pride you feel in that 26.2 miles. But you know what? I just have to say one thing to you: Screw You. It is not anymore your race than it is mine. I am proud of you for finishing at whatever time you can finish. I look at the first person who crosses that finish like with admiration and respect. Actually? I am in awe of anyone that finishes faster than Oprah because I knew from the day I started training that her goal was too lofty for me. In other words? Before today I would have seen you cross that finish line at your best time and thought, “Man. He’s fast. I wish I could be fast like him.”
But you know what? No longer. I’ll be proud of the person before you and the person after you. But of you? I’m not going to waste my admiration on someone who thinks people like me are not kicking enough ass. I’ll save it for the person who comes in dead last. Do you know how hard it is NOT to give up when they’re closing the course behind you? I’ve been the last one in a race before and had the cops picking up the cones behind me as I slowly crept towards the finish line. It was my first half-marathon and I poorly paced myself and ended up in a lot of pain. And also in last place. It hurts. It made me embarrassed and ashamed and worried that jackasses like you were rolling their eyes at me as I hobbled down the road.
But you know what? Luckily the people on my race weren’t like you. Many kept at the finish line until the last person crossed, cheering us all on. Many ran backwards when they were finished to encourage those of us still on the course. They patted us on the back and commiserated in our agony. They didn’t look down on me for walking a small bit. They let me in their club of finishers. They told me to be proud. And I was. And I’m sure as hell not letting you take that away from me. Or from Oprah. She ran her marathon in 4 hours and 29 minutes. Scoff at my time all you want, but don’t knock hers. That chick is fast.