A few weeks ago I was helping direct the Drake Well Marathon. We had an extremely generous seven-hour finishing time for the race, mostly because we had word that a few potential amputee runners would like to run our race. Even before that did not materialize, we were wondering about keeping the race open that long. It got me thinking about my article, “Running vs Jogging,” previously written here, as well as the rise in average marathon times over the past few years. There are obvious reasons why the marathon times are much slower now than they were 10 years ago; the biggest being that there is no longer a stigma attached to running a marathon time that is slower than four hours. I am a fan of that mindset, but perhaps it has become too generous.
It is hard to define certain things. I took a stab at the difference between running and jogging previously but knew there was a great deal of gray in my definition. However, at what point is a person no longer running (or even jogging) a marathon? Well, fortunately, there is a definition for that and that comes from the sport of racewalking. Yep, those goofy looking people who swing their hips to and fro, while looking like they might be holding in a bathroom break a little too long to have rules about what makes a walk a walk. The rules are, essentially that your feet must both be on the ground at the same time, and the knees cannot bend beyond a certain degree. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, let it be told here that the 50K racewalking world record (3:34:13) is presently faster than I have ever done a 50K running (3:37). So there is obviously an incredible amount of talent in these racewalkers, regardless of how odd they may look at first blush. Of course, it is folly to try to use a world record holder’s time as the standard with which one should have to meet in order to compete in any event. But if it is taking a person six hours to complete a marathon, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it at all.
Obviously, there are tons of feel good stories of runners battling cancer, overcoming a horrendous injury (if you haven’t heard of FDNY firefighter Matthew Long, you need to Google him right now), or those who are missing limbs, completing a marathon. My suggestion above does not mean to include people in those categories. Rather, I am suggesting that if you are, for all intents and purposes, a healthy human being and you can only average approximately a 15-minute mile, then maybe you should focus on a shorter distance before tackling the granddaddy of racing.