My Response to: The Slowest Generation Article

As a runner I take pride in hearing and reading about fabulous things that happen in this sport. I started subscribing to running magazines, watching races on tv and locally and reading random articles online about running. The majority of the time, I love reading these new ways to better myself for various reasons. On the flip side, there are times when I want to punch people in the face for being so narrow minded about this sport.

What am I talking about? This: On September 19, 2013 this article was published on The Wall Street Journal page: The Slowest Generation. (All excerpts from this article are italicized in this post)
Read up then see if you share my thoughts on the article. Upon my first read I was appalled. First that someone could be so narrow minded and second that the author, Kevin Helliker, was totally missing the point of sportsmanship.  As you all know, I had my fill of people who found the need to make fun of slow runners recently. I found a lot of support, some of it even being from the elite!

Ryan Lamppa, spokesman for Running USA, an industry-funded research group. While noting the health benefits that endurance racing confers regardless of pace, Lamppa—a 54-year-old competitive runner—said, “Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it’s good enough just to finish.”

What Kevin and Ryan Lamppa don’t understand is that for slow runners like me, it is a blessing to be able to run. I would like both of them to try running after five knee surgeries, through asthma and through a heart condition. Then, I’ll ask them whether they think they deserve a medal for running for almost three hours during a half marathon and trying their damn hardest. I don’t feel entitled to a medal at the end of a race. I am of the belief that half marathons and marathons are hard as shit and they require a lot of training. Perhaps the finishers are all winners for taking the chance, that is why I accept my finishers medal with pride, knowing that I couldn’t have done any more to train and run my hardest for that race.  I would assume that they don’t think I earned my marathon medal either. I finished after the course had ‘officially’ closed, maybe I didn’t earn it. Sure, my six-plus hour run would embarrass the hell out of most runners, but I display that medal proudly and look at it every single day and think of how awesome a feeling it was to cross that finish line.

A lot of people go through their training, trying to find the best way to fuel and trying to better their time with speed work and tempo runs. Me? I just run. No tempo, no speed, it all comes across as one thing – running. And I would like to add that fueling during a run, for the slow runner, is an entirely different ballgame that the fueling needs of a ‘regular’ runner. If the average runner finishes a marathon in four hours, think about running another two hours on top of that, find the stamina and energy to run that much more. Running for six hours may sound incredible to some and it may sound like a pathetic joke to the rest, either way, fueling and energy levels are HUGE things to consider at that point. Very few runners understand that while people like me may be slow, we are trying JUST as hard as you are!

Next they start to dig on fun runs, like the Color Run.

Perhaps the fastest-growing endurance event in the country, the Color Run, doesn’t time participants or post results. “Less about your 10-minute mile and more about having the time of your life, The Color Run is a five-kilometer, un-timed race,” says its website….That idea sounds downright un-American to Joe Desena, founder of the rival Spartan Race obstacle-course series. His competitors are timed and their results posted, with many aspiring to earn a slot in the Spartan World Championship this weekend. Likening to communism events that promote “hand-holding over competition,” Desena said, “How well is that everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality working in our schools?”

This race is not my thing at all, don’t want to do one, haven’t done one. But I’ll never knock it or the people who run it. So what if they don’t post your time? Does that make it any less challenging or fun? If I consider a half marathon fun, should they not post my finishing time? I don’t believe that every kid deserves a trophy for playing kindergarten soccer for one season, and I don’t like that kids think that everybody wins all the time. Kids do need to learn that at times there are clear winners and clear losers. My husband and I don’t ‘let’ our kids win anything. They have to earn it just like the rest of us, but if someone gives my son a finishers medal for running his very first 1K I’m not going to scoff at it and call it unearned. If my daughter earns a finishers medal for her Girls on the Run 5k’s should I point out that everyone got one and take away from the 10+ weeks of training that she completed to get to this point? No. No, I’ll never tear them down like that. They train, they give up their time, they give up so much as kids to follow a dream. For my kids, it is to be the best runners they can be. I’ll never made them feel inferior for that, just because everyone was rewarded for working their ass off.

“I wasn’t thrilled,” said Reilly, a sports agent in Boulder, Colo., adding that “races are turning into parades.”

This statement doesn’t take into account that at least people are moving, they are off of their butts, they are trying to better themselves! So what if runners are slower than they were 10 or 20 years ago? Does that make those of us who run now sad and pathetic? Does that mean that we should all quit and call ourselves failures because we have fun runs and may run slower that others do? Should I tell my friends who do mud runs that it isn’t a real run so they shouldn’t do it and I’ll look down on them? Hell no.

Here are some words of advice for these slow running nay-sayers to take to heart…
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I think that everyone has their own hurdles to overcome, especially when it comes to running. Look at me, I run, on average, 12:30 minute miles, and I am PROUD of it!  I CAN run, I GET to run. The best point of this post is that what Kevin and his article’s contributors don’t realize is that not everyone thinks the way they do about running and runners. My local marathon, a medium sized Boston-qualifier, chose ME to be its very first race Ambassador! Me, a slow runner! What were they thinking! I’ll tell you what they were thinking…they were thinking that not everyone is elite. Not everyone can run a seven minute mile. Not everyone had a runner’s body with lean muscles and that, at times, the most motivational thing is seeing someone ‘just like you’ complete something that you never thought you could. I hope that I can inspire people like me, the slow, those with illness or medical conditions, to get up and get moving. It doesn’t have to be for a marathon or even a half marathon, but getting off of the couch is a success in itself.

Hell, I’d even give them a medal for it.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post Amanda, I agree with the points you have made. I think this article doesn’t consider many things, such as the number of women who are now entering races, when they didn’t used to, and the fact that many runners now have less time to train (stereotype, but the men who used to race didn’t take on as much of the household or child care duties 15 years ago). People used to log 70+ mile weeks! It is a different world. That’s not a bad thing.

    Having just finished a race where the best part of it was running alongside vetrans, who had lost arms and legs and were running on prosthetics, with every runner around them cheering for being an inspiration to us all, I might write my own blog post on this article. Those people DESERVE their medals, no matter what time they cross. So do we. You’ve got me fired up now!

    • Oh! You are right! I didn’t even THINK about having less time to train with our lives getting busier by the minute!
      Honestly, my blood is still boiling over this…

  2. Wow. I have so much that I want to say, but I’ll try to keep it brief. It seems to me that some of the more competitive runners feel somehow threatened by us more casual runners that are simply trying to get (or stay) fit and healthy. I wonder why that is? Don’t like the idea of a color run (or donut run or whatever), then don’t sign up! I personally know three people who have done a color run who probably will never do a timed race. They did it because it was UN threatening and they wanted to be able to say they did a 5k. Isn’t that fantastic?! The color run for them to do something active that they wouldn’t otherwise do! I honestly just don’t get why some of these more competitive runners feel the need to bash anyone who is taking steps to be active. Run on at whatever speed feels right for you, and be proud of the steps you’re taking for your health!

    • Hello!
      I don’t know why people feel the need to be so opinionated at how fast someone else performs an activity! I’m sure these elite runners would rather I sit my ass on a couch, get fat and then they’ll complain about how many obese people there are in the world. Ah, I don’t think you can win with these kinds of people.

  3. Standing ovation!

  4. This article has been a hot topic around my house. My husband is friends with the “elite” runners, many of whom agree with this article. Even though I came close to qualifying for Boston this year, I agree with the point that some of these events are getting people involved in fitness. People who would normally not be participating in a 5K. I ran a color run this past weekend, and even though it wasn’t my thing, I ran with a group of kids who were having fun, but also giving it their all. For one of the boys it was his first 5K and after running the color run, he was excited to get involved in more races. I also have a friend who told me that she would love to do more 5K’s if they were all that fun! She had never run before in her life. And for those slow runners out there, kudos to you for putting in the training and effort just like everyone else! We all have our own pace.

  5. Wow. That’s all I came say. I agree with you. I think they’re missing the whole point of the fact that not everyone has to or want to be perfect or want to qualify for things. Some people just ENJOY RUNNING! That’s sad for them to talk down on “slow runners” as well as fun runs! Just be glad people are being active!

  6. Amen! Great post!!! I am currently at a stage where I am going for times and trying to be faster ect….but I wasn’t always at this stage and I won’t always be at this stage…and I will not be nor was I any less of a runner! The joy you get from running does not have to come from how fast you go or what place you get! Take pride in yourself and your running whether you are rockin a 6 min mile or a 12 min mile!!!!! 🙂

  7. Dave Treber says:

    Well-stated, Amanda! Here was what I wrote (with some angry fingers when I should have been out running, warning, it’s long) but haven’t really done much with this. I posted a variation on it to our running club FaceBook page. I just googled this topic after it being shelved for a while and found your blog – best wishes on all your running and everything you do.

    Crazy rambling from an old person to follow, stop reading now if you want, you have been warned…
    This is not a good article, with bitter quotes from people with an ax to grind. It rambles from untimed color runs…to road race results from 20 years ago compared to today… to that U.S. distance runners haven’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004…we even get a knock on hipsters….wow, somehow this WSJ article managed to not throw “Obamacare” into its mud. I got to the point in which “hand-holding over competition” was likened to “Communism” and I threw up. In lots of colors.
    This runner’s perspective: Olympic training is just different than road races. Road races today are different than road races 30 years ago (as are many things). Road races are just different than color runs. Way back when, we had the hash house harriers. They were “drinkers with a running problem.” They were fun, they were harmless. Anyone who would have suggested they corrupted potential Olympians, let alone competitive spirit, would have been laughed out of the bar.
    My opinions to follow, you have again been warned…. This article is “chalk-full” of conflict of interest. To reduce it to one news line (which I have not been able to do in my response, either): Competitor Group Inc. has made a decision to no longer pay appearance fees for professional runners (but it pays “travel expenses and more” for the elite). It would be interesting to know more about this, as well as the distinctions between different groups of runners. We have always been rather sensitive to word-smithing over who amongst us is a jogger, runner, competitive runner, regional elite, elite, potential Olympian…. As a race director, I have always been aware that I have a group of potential entrants who expect that I will comp their entry and cover a hotel bill because my sacrifice is small compared to theirs, in that quest for qualifying for the Olympic time trials or whatever the goal is. My pot was nowhere near Joe Desena’s quote in the article of $40K, but I made a decision several years ago to not offer prize money. The race has gone on quite well since then, and I don’t know whether I should feel good about that or worry. Does running well matter? I can only answer that for myself.
    My guess is the angle for a story — most likely even the people to quote — were provided to Helliker by an organization that knows its “spokesman for the running community” claim sells better to a wider audience if it can be linked to perceived wider societal problems, from complaints about youth of today to that quest for U.S. Olympic gold. That group would be Running USA, which is not unlike others out there who present themself as an “educational expert” or “health care reform analyst” or whatever else and hope that someone bites on their line. We read that to “some observers, that (CGI) change contributed to a growing embrace of mediocracy (in running amongst American young people).” Who are these “observers” the author would like us to think were picked willy-nilly from the roads? Well, we get Brendan Reilly from Boulder, who is presented as a concerned runner, but he is a “sports agent” who represents runners. It’s very much in his best interests to decry any thought of road races “turning into parades.” Ryan Lamppa is a “54-year-old competitive runner” and a spokesman for an “industry-funded research group.” Rather than research, all he offers is an anecdotal quote – and certainly a trendy one these days — that “many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it’s good enough just to finish.”
    While there may be many people of an older generation who are nodding their heads in agreement, it’s important to know where that quote is coming from. Whatever the topic, there are people who spend a lot of time and money trying to make their viewpoint the one that gets repeated or reposted, and running is not immune to that, either. The quotes are from Running USA, formed in 1999 out of USATF in part from discontent with the direction of the running community, with that feel-bad proof that the US had not won an Olympic distance medal since 1984. CGI, which does not appear to have been contacted by the WSJ writer, formed in 2007 with large-scale, less-competitive, for-profit running “events” (think Rock and Roll series) in mind. I can’t really fault Running USA for anything it is doing, but I also can’t fault CGI for not wanting to pay (allow me to keep training through) appearance fees. Maybe for Elvis!? If a decision by CGI to not pay appearance fees is a first move, then getting an article out there that links the decision to the downfall of an entire generation, well, that is an interesting chess counter. I wish Running USA the best, but what we have is a group that relies on the success of others (U.S. Olympians performing well) and the support of others (running events giving, runners or journalists thinking this group is the spokesman for running) toward marketing its own success. That’s not much of a hand. I am more a fan of the Road Runners Club of America and its programs to support “Roads Scholars.”
    Running USA statistics, such as that “last year nearly 75% of road-race finishers were 44 or younger” and “U.S. (marathon) finishes for men rose 44 minutes from 1980 through 2011,” are interesting, but there is no real context or correlation. Large-scale races that keep getting larger will skew the overall numbers more than low-key events that tend to get a higher percentage of dedicated runners. More importantly, I believe it’s important to remember that Running USA was offering similar alarm-bell stats in 2004 and then Meb Keflizhigi and Deena Kastor won marathon medals.
    Mostly, “The Slowest Generation” article just lurches on and on. As I have done in response, too, thank you for reading. There is just so much in this article that I found LOL funny. Such as: “Of course, there are countless super-elite young athletes. And only because the young have no need to prove they’re not old was I able to outrace so many of them last month.” Huh? Is this the author speaking? This sentence makes no sense at all, or maybe it explains everything.
    We all so want our own experiences to be relevant. When I was running 2:50 marathons, I so wanted people to listen to me and understand that my 3:10 that day was not a good time for me. Too much lactic threshold buildup, didn’t taper properly….we runners know the language. Have we ever stopped to think about how it sounds to others?
    So many disparate elements got tied into this article, but I would suggest that if it were not a “color run” but a “color parade” then that event might not be seen as competition. Perhaps that’s the problem, if there is one. We runners do not want to invite EVERYONE to our parade. WE are NOT joggers. We long for the good ol’ days. We want there to be a bad guy that explains away things we do not like. Just like when we were all kids.
    Then there is this bizarre quote….
    “If you can pull the wool over your customer’s eyes and convince them that Communism is better, you can drop at least $40K to your bottom line in every race,” says Joe Desena.
    This is another conflict-of-interest quote. Joe Desena apparently wants to come across as a Capitalist (at least I assume he does, with a crack on what he labels “Communism”) but what he really wants is for people to not support competitors. He wants us to enter his events. If we’re man enough and not a Commie, that is. Selective-capitalism, in other words. The bottom line I fear is that many people are going to read this and think, “If that’s the running community, then paint me pink and purple.”

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