Welcome! › Forums › Running Forum › Interesting, potentially controversial, article on marathoners › Re: Re: Interesting, potentially controversial, article on marathoners
This topic is always dangerous to wade into, but I will. If I had to be concise I'd say it's not about speed, it's about sport. We shouldn't criticize individual people for the speed they run, but it is completely OK to worry that in the aggregate the sport is being depleted by not enough individuals treating running as a sport.
We have to acknowledge that running is both a recreation, and a competitive sport. One of the great things about the activity is that it is open to everyone, it is easy to start, and you can continually choose how much you make running a recreation or a competitive activity.
I think it is great that lots of people are participating in running as a recreation. For the most part so long as they enjoy it that's all for the best. It's also mostly true that individually the people chasing times and places are not that put out by the rise in recreational non-competitive entries (though the complaint about races filling up early is legitimate).
But for running to be a competitive sport you have to have sufficient numbers that are taking it seriously as a sport. There is abundant evidence of the drop-off in competitive depth in western countries (this is not unique to America) even though at the absolute top end of the sport internationally competition is deep and wide.
I don't think it's totally unreasonable to connect the promotion of running as recreation only to the fall in competitive depth (below the international level). People who come through the sport as high school and college runners know that it's a competitive sport. But there are lots of people who take up running later in life, and if what they see in race promotion and the media is the message that running is just a recreation it's not surprising that people don't take it seriously as a sport. For example, the Star Tribune yesterday had a full-page spread on 5 people running Twin Cities next weekend. Only one had a time goal. Perhaps they'll have more on the top end of the field later, so I will reserve some criticism. But this was the public face of our sport.
Sometimes analogies are useful. I don't think that cycling, swimming, triathlon or cross-country ski-ing (which are comparable sports to running) have been as diluted as running by recreational runners who aren't interested in the competitive side. Certainly they have proportionately more races in those sports which are races for the sake of races, and not vehicles for charity fundraising.
If we were to make analogies to other sports, one could compare the numbers of sub 2:X0 marathoners in the 80s with now, and make some comparison with the number of minor league ball players hitting some decent average. That's how other sports fans will understand our concern. If the number of players hitting 0.300 in the minor leagues had more than halved in twenty years that would be a huge decline in baseball standards. That's what has happened with America's sub 2:20 male marathoners if we take that as an imperfect index of competitive depth. Its quite likely the decline has been even worse between 2:20 and 3:00 since people around 2:20 have some financial incentive to keep going.
I think that people would enjoy running more as a recreation if they built up to marathons slowly, and that more would become competitive runners if they slowly increased their race distances. If you're going from 0 to 26.2 in 6-12 months it's difficult for most people to also learn to race.
There's a lot of money invested in, and to be made from, the current focus on recreational marathoning. It ain't changing anytime soon unfortunately.