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Miss Diana Rookie 9 posts since
Sep 14, 2006
Currently Being Moderated

Dec 25, 2007 6:46 AM

How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

Edited to include entire article:

Running With SlowpokesHow sluggish newbies ruined the marathon.
By Gabriel Sherman
Updated Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, at 7:35 AM ET

Among autumn's sporting rituals there is one tradition that fills me with mounting dread: the return of marathon season. If you've been to the gym or attended a cocktail party recently, you know what I mean. Chances are you've bumped into a newly devoted runner who's all too happy to tell you about his heart-rate monitor and split times and the looming, character-building challenge of running 26.2 miles. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a slovenly couch potato who abhors exercise. I'm an avid runner with six marathons under my New Balance trainers. But this growing army of giddy marathon rookies is so irksome that I'm about ready to retire my racing shoes and pick up bridge.

According to USA Track & Field, the sport's governing body, about 430,000 Americans ran a marathon last year, an increase from just 25,000 in 1976. Next month, 40,000 participants will tackle the Chicago Marathon, and about 36,000 will run in November's New York City Marathon. The New York Times recently reported that the wannabes who get turned away from the big-city races—New York got 90,000 applications—have resorted to buying spots on the black market. As the ranks of marathon runners swell, I have to ask: What's the point?

Today, the great majority of marathon runners set out simply to finish. That sets the bar so low that everyone comes out a winner. Big-city marathons these days feel more like circuses than races, with runners of variable skill levels—some outfitted in wacky costumes—crawling toward the finish line. The marathon has transformed from an elite athletic contest to something closer to sky diving or visiting the Grand Canyon. When a newbie marathoner crosses the finish line, he's less likely to check his time than to shout, "Only 33 more things to do before I die!"

It wasn't always this way. In 1970, when 127 hearty souls lined up for the inaugural New York City Marathon, the marathon was the province of a few masochists dumb enough to try to run as far as most people commute by car. Back then, Americans who ran took running seriously. The icons of the era were Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, a couple of guys who happened to be the best marathoners in the world. Now, P. Diddy and Oprah spark tons of media buzz for finishing marathons in lackluster times. American record-holder Deena Kastor, who won the 2005 Chicago Marathon in 2:21, is completely anonymous.

The democratization of the marathon began in the early 1980s. The success of books like Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running inspired mass "Just Do It" participation. As the popularity of marathons increased, the speed of the race slowed to its current snail's pace. In 1980, the average finish time for a male marathoner was 3:32, according to USA Track & Field. Today, it's more than 4:20. In 2003, the start time of the New York City Marathon was moved forward an hour earlier, in part to grant thousands of stragglers extra hours so they could finish before sunset.

Aside from an elevated sense of self-worth, what do marathoners get from their efforts? There's no doubt that a lot of people train for marathons to get in shape. But the human body is just not designed for such high-mileage running. As a result of their crash course in distance running, a preponderance of marathoners suffer repetitive-use injuries like stress fractures, tendonitis, and shin splints. It would certainly be healthier for inexperienced joggers to run fewer miles at a faster pace.

Perhaps more troubling, the slow-marathon outbreak has created a host of new health hazards. Slowpokes face the risk of hyponatremia, or overhydration. This is caused when a runner consumes too much water, diluting the body's electrolyte balance (and potentially leading to a heart attack) unless he consumes a sports drink like Gatorade to replenish the depleted sodium. Slow runners are particularly at risk because the body loses sodium as it perspires. The longer a runner is on the course, the more electrolytes they'll sweat out. In the past decade, according to the Washington Post, at least four runners have died from drinking too much during a marathon.

Marathons might not be good for your health, but they are certainly good for business. A boatload of races have sprung up to assist would-be marathoners in their quest for mediocrity. The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, for one, has bands performing every mile to keep bored runners entertained. Maybe if people ran faster they wouldn't need Zeppelin cover bands to keep boredom at bay.

Running was once a purist's sport—you needed only to lace up your shoes and hop out the door. No longer. During a recent run in Central Park, I dodged groups of marathon trainees festooned with heart-rate monitors and space-age breathable fabrics that looked like they'd emerged from some NASA lab. Along with this profusion of gear, a constellation of coaches, massage therapists, chiropractors, and other gurus now peddle services to the marathon masses. In New York, the Bliss Spa offers the "Cold Feet" treatment, a one-hour procedure that "uses alternating hot and cold therapies to help circulate and deflate aching, swollen feet and puffy ankles." Two groups that Bliss says deserves this kind of pampering: marathon runners and pregnant women.

In many ways, the slow marathon is the perfect event for the American athletic sensibility. Just finishing a marathon is akin to joining a gym and then putzing around on the stationary bike. We feel good about creating the appearance of accomplishment, yet aren't willing to sacrifice for true gains. It's clear now that anyone can finish a marathon. Maybe it's time we raise our standards to see who can run one.[/URL" target="_blank">


[http://This message has been edited by Miss Diana (edited Sep-22-2006).|http://This message has been edited by Miss Diana (edited Sep-22-2006).]

  • mountaingirl Rookie 22 posts since
    Jun 25, 2004
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Sep 22, 2006 11:21 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    He's an elitist *** 

  • alohadreamer Amateur 35 posts since
    Jan 1, 2006
    Currently Being Moderated
    2. Sep 22, 2006 11:27 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    Dare I ask? What is the general philosophy behind this "Slate" magazine? I never heard of it, I might be lucky.



  • jenniann111 Rookie 18 posts since
    Sep 14, 2004
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. Sep 22, 2006 11:37 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    Making yourself feel better by putting others down... that's original. He's truly an elitist @sshole. 

  • LeftRightRepeat Pro 1,452 posts since
    Aug 16, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    4. Sep 22, 2006 11:41 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I thought it was a pretty good article.

    I think it's important to differentiate those who train hard, commit to the miles, do the speed work, study nutrition, and happen to run more slowly from those who seek the minimum effort required to reach the finish line. They are clearly two different beasts and, in my mind, don't deserve the same levels of respect. On the other hand, if you want to putz around on the stationary bike, it's your membership fee - have at it!


    ->>>John[/URL" target="_blank"><<<-
    Founder of the
    Newbie Wiki[/URL" target="_blank">

  • lyric12 Rookie 53 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    5. Sep 22, 2006 11:44 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I once interviewed a teenage young handicapped woman for a story I wrote for a local magazine. She was truly an inspiration she was a fellow runner who bench pressed as much as she weighed at age 17. Her running times were not the best - but her spirit and diligence keep her focused on a goal until she accomplishes it. We are not all alike in ability, striving toward excellence to overcome our imperfection is a worthwhile cause no matter what speed we run it in.

  • Bocrunning Rookie 3 posts since
    Oct 15, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    6. Sep 22, 2006 11:49 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    Nice article.................@hole.  Unless your winning $$$ at your "six marathons" you are ridiculous!!!!!!!!!!

  • HDH Amateur 332 posts since
    Aug 19, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    7. Sep 22, 2006 11:57 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I disagree that sluggish newbies have ruined the marathon.  It seems society requires of a new running to "prove themselves" by doing the marathon distance.

    I have seen too often on this site of those who have just started running and want to tackle the marathon after only just finishing the C25K program or having run their first 5K.

    It is true that they are good for business... the marathon business as they are now accepting walkers and there is ever increasing pressure to take charity runners (IMO so as not to get "bad press" for not letting them in).

    As for HRM, GPS, and high tech shirts, one could also say the same of the gear created for fishing, bowling, or any other recreational activity.

    Everyone is out to make a buck, like the poster to get us to link to the magazine site.

    I only started running 8 years ago. My older brother did XC in HS in the 70's. I think the author is wrong to imply that back then runners took it seriously but now we don't.

    Though I am slow, I still take my training and racing seriously.


    hdh[/URL" target="_blank">

  • 4leafclover087 Rookie 70 posts since
    Aug 20, 2006
    Currently Being Moderated
    8. Sep 22, 2006 12:10 PM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    At least people are getting off their @ss and doing something! This guy needs to pick up his pace and finally reach this century.

  • 4boysmom Rookie 1,018 posts since
    Dec 10, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    9. Sep 22, 2006 1:16 PM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    Last year I finsihed the Columbus Marathon in 4:28.  DAMNED PROUD OF IT, TOO!!!

    Please tell me how this 'ruined' the marathon??? I picked a training plan and stuck with it. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot! I quickly learned that cotton is NOT my friend, so I guess I am decked out in space age clothing... I started the marathon at the back of the pack, so not to hold up those faster than me (nearly everyone, it seemed...).

    This season is going much better for me. Of the three half marathons I have done, I placed 2nd and 5th in my age group. I also did a 10K, and finished 4th womans OA. As for Columbus this year, I'm hoping to Boston qualify.

    Who cares that 'everyone is running a marathon' now?  Is it better that 60% of Americans are over weight?

  • bostontodd Rookie 31 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    10. Sep 22, 2006 2:54 PM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    In addition to him being a jerk, his arguments don't really hold much water.  So rather than resorting to flaming him, I'll just shoot down his arguments.

    He doesn't like "sluggish newbies" and thinks they ruined the sport of marathon running for the following reasons: (1) His own perception that everyone else's perception is that a marathon goal is merely to finish; (2) attention paid to celebrities who finish in unremarkable times while the elite runners receive very little attention; (3) health hazards for "slow marathoners"; (4) commercialization of the sport.

    I'll address each argument in turn:

    (1) I think what's behind this guy's beef is that the dramatic increase in marathon participants has somehow diminished his accomplishments, which is of course quite selfish. He says, since so many more people finish marathons, and that is the only goal that people think there is with respect to marathons, then that is all that people will think that I have done. In fact, the decrease in average finishing time makes him look much faster by comparison. It's not true that just because many people have the goal of finishing rather than running a fast time that they, and others, can't appreciate those who do run fast times. Furthermore, much of the increase is not due to people who aren't serious and run only to finish. As evidenced by many posts here, many if not most mid and back packers take their training and running seriously, set specific time goals, and go balls to the wall to make those goals. Should they be banned for the sport because they wern't born with Lance Armstrong's VO2max?

    (2) Perhaps Diddy and Oprah get more attention than Deena Kastor. But if marathon running remained a fringe sport, would Deena be a national celebrity? Not outside the running community, no. Do we ever hear about world class level speedskaters? Only during the olympics.

    (3) Although marathon running may not be the best thing one can do for one's health, it is certainly better than being a couch potato. And who is he to dictate how people should stay in shape and live a healthy life? And it is obviously a stretch comparing finishing a marathon to putzing on a stationary bike. I don't think anyone can take that comparison seriously, even if they buy his bs. With respect to the risk for hyponatremia, he cites a statistic that four people have died of marathon related hyponatremia in the last ten years. This is something that is easy to guard against, especially now that there has been a lot of press coverage of it, and many marathon organizers, notably the NYC marathon, specifically warn participants of this risk and how to reduce it. Furthermore, do we stop doing everything that includes a tiny risk of injury or death? Of course not, then nobody would every drive, fly, ride a bike, take a train, walk outside when it is dark, etc..., because all these things entail some, however minute, risk of death or injury.

    (4) If you don't like spa treatments marketed towards marathon runners, heart rate monitors, and technical fabrics, then don't buy them. There are plenty of things in this world that people pay good money for that other people don't approve of. Business is business, and people buy these things for a reason. As someone else mentioned, virtually every sport has been commercialized to the extent that there are products and services that can help provide someone with a technical advantage. Why should someone wear a cotton shirt when there is a perfectly good techinical shirt that will perform so much better, at a reasonable cost? In addition, the fact that people are willing to spend money on these products just shows that they are serious about optimizing their training and finishing as fast as they can. As for the bands along the course. I don't really see what's wrong with that. They serve to enhance enjoyment of the experience, not to fight boredom. If running marathons were too boring, people wouldn't do them in the first place. If you don't like the bands, you get past them really quickly. It's not as though there are speakers blaring every 50 feet.

    In my opinion, the huge increase in interest in marathon running has been great for the sport. Marathons and running generally get much more attention than in the past. There are more marathons around the country to be able to participate in, big and small. Now if only everyone would just line up where they are supposed to.


    My User Profile[/URL" target="_blank">

  • jbirge Rookie 22 posts since
    May 18, 2006
    Currently Being Moderated
    11. Sep 22, 2006 3:37 PM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    To quote a great man...."Waddle on friends"


    <br />Never give up and never give in. <br /><br /><br />Jennifer

  • BillyVLT Amateur 149 posts since
    Dec 14, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    12. Dec 25, 2007 6:47 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I'm trying to look at Mr. Sherman's essay using the principles of interpretive chartiy.  I still feel that his essay does not support his premise.  While he does not come out and say this, the premise seems to be that "slow people are ruining marathoning and running in general."  I could be wrong.  It could simply be that "slow people are annoying to me as a serious runner."  Either way, he fails to persuade me.

    He points out that the slow have swelled the number of marathon participants and the number of people running at Central Park and thus presumably other good places to go for a run. He does not show that there is any harm to this to fast runners. He could have made the case that more slow runners means that more fast runners cannot enter New York (although we know that is untrue because NYM gives preferential entries to the fast). He could have made the case that this profusion of slow runners makes it difficult for fast runners to train properly but he does not.

    He says that slow runners are more likely to injure themselves and suffer other adverse medical conditions like hyponatremea. Isn't that actually good from his point of view? If the slow become injured, will they not think twice about taking on the challenge of the marathon and maybe quit altogether? I certainly wouldn't want to argue in favor of this point. However, he again does not demonstrate how injuries to the slow translates into harm for the speedy.

    He says that businesses, like race promoters and massage therapists, cater to the slow. Again, where is the harm to the speedy? Are not these same opportunities available to the fast?

    I also think his discussion of the democritization of the sport cuts against his premise. He cites the great heroes of the sport from the 70s that encouraged the slow to run. Perhaps if they had been less successful, maybe the slow would have stayed on the sidelines.

    I too wish more people knew of Ms. Kastor's accomplishments -and Paula Radcliffe's, for that matter. Speaking as someone who is slow, I can tell you I would not know their names either if I had not become involved, in my very humble way, with running. Every time I go up to Flagstaff, AZ, where Ms. Radcliffe trains, I have the small hope I will get the chance to see her. You don't get to see a world record holder every day and I think that would be a treat. Ms. Radcliffe has made the point that she likes Flagstaff precisely because people up there don't know who she is. I digress.

    I do agree that slow runners should not exhibit boorish behavior. I think everyone should try to behave in a mannerly way.

    I do strongly disagree with the idea that the slow are not willing "sacrifice for real gains." Regardless of my (and perhaps others) objectively pathetic performance, getting up at 2am to do my best to go 20 miles is a sacrifice. Even if Mr. Sherman would contend that this is not a "sacrifice," I again must ask how the behavior of the slow in this respect causes him or other fast runners harm. He does not say.

    Last, I think Mr. Sherman spots an opportunity and then does not act on it, at least not as indicated by his essay. He says "Maybe it's time we raise our standards to see who can run one." I don't think he is alone in this opinion. I think Mr. Sherman can and should organize a race or races for that matter for the fast. It would seem to be easy enough to require a qualifying time in this age of the Internet and easy access to finishing time data. I think such races would have small participation numbers and thus make a difficult business proposition but perhaps you could make enough money to cover costs. Such "elite" races would give the fast a chance to enjoy the purity that has been lost and would give the slow something to which to aspire (as many of us aspire to Boston now). Without irony, I hope that I see advertisements for Gabriel Sherman Racing events soon.

    [http://This message has been edited by BillyVLT (edited Sep-22-2006).|http://This message has been edited by BillyVLT (edited Sep-22-2006).]

  • Julie478 Rookie 168 posts since
    Aug 8, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    13. Sep 22, 2006 5:50 PM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I'm currently training to run a marathon, albeit slowly.
    It beats smokin' crack.

    This guy is cut from the same cloth as whiney emo teenagers who complain that the band they "discovered" three years ago has a hit so now everyone's a fan, but not a REAL fan like him.

    Would he rather his sport remain unpopular and under-funded? I'm sure he's not running in the same shoes they created in 1976. I'm sure he's got a pair of state of the art shoes created specifically for his style of running. Would Nike, New Balance, Asics, Saucony, Brooks, etc. have bothered to spend money to develop those shoes if they weren't confident thousands of people would buy them now that running has gained popularity?

    Shut up, Gabriel.

  • cakmakli Rookie 23 posts since
    Mar 22, 2005
    Currently Being Moderated
    14. Dec 25, 2007 6:47 AM (in response to Miss Diana)
    Re: How sluggish newbies ruined the marathon

    I think Sherman's a retard.  I pushed for time in my first couple of marathons and then thought what's the point.  I felt bad at the finish and was sore for days.  I also suffered injuries during training.  Now I just go out to meet new people and have a good time.  I am able to increase the number of races I run in a year and have increased the distance to ultras.  I even feel good enough at the end of my races to enjoy a cold beer.  To each his own.  Some might strive for speed, while others like myself might strive for distance.  In the end, I don't think it is anyone's business why I run, or what my time is.

    [http://This message has been edited by cakmakli (edited Sep-22-2006).|http://This message has been edited by cakmakli (edited Sep-22-2006).]

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