As the total number of marathon finishers increases, and the average marathon finishing times get slower and slower, the debate about how slower marathoners are ruining what it means to be a “marathoner” has raged on. To some extent, I understand the viewpoint of those who state that those in the five-hour range or slower are “dirtying” what it means to be a true marathoner. For example, if you say you play baseball and are a baseball player, the understanding is usually that you play in the big leagues and are, at the very least, one of a select few hundreds of people in America that are good enough to play that position. If not, and you just play beer league softball, well, then someone can easily categorize you as such.
However, if one were to scoff at the five-hour marathon finisher the same way we would the guy with the gut and 40 ounce aluminum bat swinging for the fences, they would risk being ostracized for their unenlightened opinions about what it takes to be a true marathoner. I mean, I truly do get it. For people who define themselves by speed, not necessarily everyone should be allowed to call themselves a marathoner. But then we get to the obvious question: where is the line we draw? 4 hours? 3:30? Maybe sub-3? Heck, soon we may have a world record under two hours. Can people only 2:30 and under be real marathoners? They would still be over a minute per mile off the world record. Isn’t that slow and therefore demeaning what the other real marathoners are doing? Obviously, there is not a time goal that fits all criteria for this line of thinking. As such, there has to be a better way to decide what makes a real marathoner, or real runners.
Recently, I was at the Boilermaker 15k in Utica NY. I had the chance to partake in a great conversation with Kevin Hanson of the Hansons-Brooks Distance project. This creation of Kevin and his brother Keith is an Olympic development squad that most recently put Brian Sell into the Olympics as a qualifier in the marathon. Obviously Kevin, who surrounds himself with only the speediest of the speedy, must be disgusted by the plodders out there sullying this wonderful sport, right? Not even close.
Kevin and I came upon jus about the same conclusion and feel that we were able to easily define what the difference is between a runner and a jogger. In our opinion, this difference is having a goal. Not obtaining a goal, not having a fast goal, but plain and simply having a goal. If you are going out to run for a reason and a purpose, with a goal in mind (whether it be to get fit, to get faster, to improve your mental health, etc.) you are, without a doubt, a runner. Sure, hopefully it is a realistic goal or one that is not somewhere on along the lines of “I want to decrease my marathon time by one second” but a goal nonetheless.