Are Marathons a Joke?

Yesterday, my old Drill Sergeant sent me the link to an article, “Is a Running A Marathon Really That Impressive?” SPOILER ALERT: The premise of this article is that because so many people enter into these races, they have lost meaning. I went on to have a short conversation with him about it.

But wait, let me go back a tick to explain DS X. He is what I would like to call the real deal. He’s an active duty air borne, pathfinder infantry soldier who has been doing marathons and ultra marathons (among many other types of endurance events) since about 07. I’ve known him since about 2010. After I completed basic and advanced training, I continued to look up to him as both a mentor and a friend.

At any rate…. Here’s the conversation I had with him:

Me: Well, it challenges me… So, I’m still going to keep at it, lol.
DS: I never said stop running its just interesting to see marathons become a joke.
Me: I think it’s silly to think that all because people are more interested in running, it’s a joke. That’s like saying that there’s no point in climbing Mt. Everest because a certain amount of people are already doing it. I don’t think running is really about the distance. I think it’s really more about pushing yourself further than you had once thought to be impossible.
DS: Well, marathons used to have max allowable times of 5:00 which is running most of it at a pretty slow pace, but they allow 7:00 now and still be considered a finisher so it became laughable. I ripped a muscle I’m my calf at 16 miles in my last marathon and hobbled the last 10 miles with a destroyed leg and still finished in under 5:00.
Me: And when things like that happen… That’s when you are able to really observe the strength of the human spirit. But I digress.
DS: yea, but allowing 7:00 it opened the door to allow people to stroll along.
Me: Well, that’s just a symptom of people not taking it seriously. Think about it. People like us, take physical training quite seriously and so we consciously push ourselves. It’s just in our nature. Others do it just to say… Ok, I did it. Perhaps the real problem lies in how commercialized running has become. It’s a money making industry. So, to allow for the possibility of more people into these events, races are going to extend the allowable finishing time.
DS: yea marathons to me have become something I’ll do if I can’t find something better to do.
Me: I’m fairly new, so, I’m still intimidated by going so long. I don’t think it’s about just finishing. It’s about the miles and effort that one outs into training. And it’s these efforts that produce performance.
DS: I know all of this.
Me: Then, you must disagree with the premise. If at the end of the race you feel like death, you in all likelihood gave it your best shot and so should be proud of the work you accomplished.
DS: I agree 100% with the article that marathon running isn’t hard anymore. I know without the a shadow of a doubt I can finish any marathon, 50k or 50 miler so I lost interest in them.

So, I see where he’s coming from. The point of these events is to push yourself to your physical and mental limits. Lets say two people are competing in a race and one person is going “balls to the wall” and finishes in sub 4 hours and the other person is “half behinding it” and finishes in sub 7 hours. Why should they both be put into the same category? For me, they aren’t. But of course, for me, a variety of factors come into play when evaluating running performance.

For instance, if the two runners are about the same age, experience level and have no physical ailments… Then obviously, there is a problem. However, if my 60 year old mum were to complete a full marathon using the run/ walk method, I would be nothing short than proud. If I were running against this DS X, I would probably look pathetic. He has wayyy more experience than I do. Here, comparing finishing times doesn’t seem fair to my mum, the DS or myself. This is why I don’t compare myself to other runners whether they are better or worse of a runner than I am. I know what I am able to do, and for me, that’s good enough.

The important thing… For me anyways… Is how I’m feeling at the end of the event. Did I finish in my goal time? Even if the answer is no, did I at least give it my all? Did I push myself with all my heart? So yeah, a lot of people run marathons, but how many finish with heart? That’s what’s important here. If you finish a full marathon in 6 hours… But you know that you trained as hard as you could and that on race day you gave it your all…. You should feel accomplished.

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4 thoughts on “Are Marathons a Joke?

  1. I’ve walked the marathon distance before. It took between 7 and 8 hours. It wasn’t easy. I also wasn’t in a race. I am going to run my first marathon in the fall. I’ll be 55 years old when race day rolls around. I won’t look at the distance as a joke. I know some see a marathon as nothing more than a parade. I think part of it is what our your goals? How much time do you have to train? Where are you starting from? I didn’t start running until I was nearly 50 years old. When I finish that marathon, it will be an accomplishment. Funny that you kept in touch with your drill sergeant. The last person I ever wanted to see after completing basic training, way back in 1977 was my drill sergeant. I saw him once when I was in Germany, more than a year after basic and I was sacred witless that he was going to chew me out. He ate lunch, never even acknowledged me, and left and I never saw him again.

    • Honestly, I happened to find him on Facebook and added him just to see if he would accept the friend request. He is probably one of the best teachers/instructors I’ve ever had. And it’s been nothing short of a pleasure to work with him. Again, these things are relative. I know of older gentlemen like you who also walk it, which is cool. But I know of guys at age 53 finishing 50 miles in 8 hours (which is considered super fast). What becomes problematic is when people don’t take the events seriously. Almost all marathons are races. The point is to finish in as little time as possible. It bothers me to see kids in their 20s who obviously didn’t train properly walk a marathon. It is a race. So, not only are you not being fair to yourself, but you’re really not being fair to the runners around you. See my point?

      • I see your point. I know more people are completing marathons than ever before, and times are getting slower. I know there are people out there (I’ve seen blogs) that say the marathon has become a parade.

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