Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Runner's World article on Marathon Walkers

Chris Brogan pointed me to this article in the current Runner's World. I had heard that someone was writing an article through the Yahoo! Marathon Walkers group but I hadn't seen it yet.

My first thoughts on reading it:

1. It doesn't really apply to me. While I'm no elite racewalker, I can compete with a fair number of runners out there and don't want to finish at the back of the pack any more than runners do. I'm out there to compete and push myself, even if I'm only competing against me.

2. Most of the complaints about walkers have to do with race etiquette, not walking in and of itself. There are plenty of people (runners and walkers) who line up at the front when they shouldn't, or congregate together and block the path. Walkers are only more visible and an "easy" target for complaints.

3. This is more of a problem in these large, mega-events. In the few large events I've done the start has always been crowded, confusing and frustrating, no matter where you start. I often have to dodge around people (and people often have to dodge around me) because of the sheer number of participants. This is one reason why I much prefer smaller races, especially 100-300 people.

4. I completely respect the position of the race directors. They have to make money or the events we all love will go away. I feel that they should set reasonable limits on their events and expect that the participants will manage themselves and their own capabilities. There is a large market in walkers so some events will naturally cater to that crowd. But there is nothing wrong with an RD who puts a 6 hour or 5 hour limit on the race. In racewalking I've seen some shorter races (mile, 5k) that told you not to show up if you couldn't keep a certain pace (and they were paces I could not maintain) so this is not exclusive to running.

All in all it was a pretty balanced article that I'm sure will receive a lot of feedback. I don't think there is any reason that walkers and runners can not coexist. They are each trying to accomplish something different. Think about trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers. When I recently walked the North Short of Lake Grapevine, I was very proud to complete the out-and-back in a little under four hours. A mountain biker could probably finish in 1-2 hours; a good trail runner is 2-3; a hiker in 7-8. Each of us sought something different out of the same route. I don't compare myself to runners because we are in different sports, just like a road cyclist shouldn't compare him/herself to a runner.

There was only one quote that bothered me, by Bob Glover, author of The Competitive Runner's Handbook: "Now they just go out and do it because they're told they don't have to run it, they can walk it. It's a cop-out for an underachieving society." That is an unnecessarily harsh and unfair statement. Someone who walks a marathon has achieved something! Most people, even most reasonably fit people, could not walk 26.2 miles. It is an achievement. Like I said above, it is a different achievement. I doubt any of these eight hour marathoners count themselves in the same "league" as the elites like Bob (jerk). I am totally in awe of olympians, elite marathoners, ultramarathoners. But I'm still working my butt off to be better and faster and stronger and healthier. To criticize my effort is to criticize amateurism in general. Should only superstars play basketball? Should only prodigies play the violin or the electric guitar? Should I stop playing chess? Or better yet, should I tell my daughter to stop learning chess if it becomes apparent that she will never be a Chess master? ARRGH! I have to stop before I get more angry!

Since I'm on this topic, I did receive an interesting comment during my race yesterday. I usually negative split my races because it takes me a little while to warm up. Therefore I usually pass a few people during the race. Yesterday was no exception--I probably passed 10 people in the last half of the race and was only passed by one.

Right before the turnaround I passed a woman who said, "I thought this was a running race." She immediately said, "Just kidding," but she didn't really sound like she was kidding. She might have been. Or she might have felt discouraged that a mere "walker" was passing her. Who knows.

In the last mile of the race a woman who passed me said, "I've been so impressed with you for the last few miles. Good job!" Mostly I've met with tons of encouragement and nice comments, even from people I'm passing.

So much of someone's attitude toward walkers depends on one's attitude in general. That's the main lesson I've learned. What do you think?