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Speak Up: Has the Marathon Lost Its Status?

I recently read a rather interesting article on that blames Oprah for lowering the bar for excellence in the sport of marathon running. The article goes on to say that the idea of the marathon being an actual race is entirely lost, and instead of being an incredible test of physical endurance and speed, it is now merely a self-improvement exercise. People no longer run races to win, but rather to check off a box on their lifelong to do lists.

I personally think it's fabulous that people such as Oprah have inspired the less fit and overweight folks to get off their couches and into races. Anyone who inspires anyone else to get moving is OK in my book. Those who want to finish the race in two hours flat can still do so, even while there are less speedy folks bringing it home in the back of the pack. In the New York Marathon, Lance Armstrong finished in about 2:50, while Katie Holmes finished in 5:30, and the person who finished absolute last (38,554th place) did it in 9:51. Everyone, in my opinion, upheld the integrity of the sport just as much as Paula Radcliffe (who won it for the ladies).

What do you think about all of it — should the marathon be only for serious racers, or should anyone with a will and a way be able to participate? Speak up and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

(Let's do our best to keep comments respectable, so everyone will feel comfortable leaving their opinions.)


Join The Conversation
sarahshe sarahshe 7 years
That article really pissed me off. Marathons are open to the public for a reason. If race officials lower the qualifying time to 3.5 hours, then only the "best" will be there. If they keep them as they are, everyone who wants to run will be able to take a stab at it. And honestly, I feel like in this day and age, we should be encouraging ANYONE who wants to live a fit lifestyle! And really, are people discouraged from doing other things because they aren't "the best" at it? Playing basketball at the park? Taking photographs? Writing poetry? SHEESH.
rscarter rscarter 9 years
Running my marathon was such a moving experience for me! I cried tears of joy at several points during the run. I loved every minute, even though it was hard and tiresome! Reaching that goal was probably the best thing I've done in my life. For someone to say that I contributed to the loss of the marathon's status is absurd! It's still 26.2 miles! It still takes a lot of training and guts to get to the starting line and to the finish line. A marathon is still a marathon, no matter who runs it.
MuppetsForDinner MuppetsForDinner 9 years
That's ridiculous. But I do think that there could be a distinction between marathons for everyone, marathons for newbies/slower folk, and marathons for those who want to race. To be honest, I've been thinking about running a marathon (for life goal) but I am a little intimidated. I would probably feel more comfortable if I knew I was surrounded by other folks like me.
smart-blonde smart-blonde 9 years
If the belief is that non-elite athletes, people who just want to run a marathon because they can, should be barred from running marathons, then people without trained voices should not be allowed to sing in their cars.
EllaBella EllaBella 9 years
Recently there was an article I read on a local online site for runners, which was commenting the results of our local runners at the NYC marathon, none of them were pros, actually most of them were amateurs of different levels who traveled overseas to do the NYC marathon. Well I couldn't believe the comments the guy wrote (he is a pro), I'll just translate them: " Mr. XXX began well, being nr. 50 after the first 15km, but then it was the end. He finished at 5.18, probably walking." "Mr. xxxx was probably doing some sightseeing on the way because he finished at 4.56" and he went on like this about all of them, can you believe that! I mean those people were not pros, he was so mean at them! Conecrning the salon article I kind of understand some of the frustration of the guy. Because the situation is very special.I mean the marathon (at least some of them) and a few other races are the only sports that are so open to everybody, it's just to buy a ticket. I mean take the 100m sprint, there is no way you can just buy a ticket and run with Marion Jones just to "achieve a 100m"! I understand those guys feel frustrated about it cause many other runs are closed and for pros only but not all marathons. Still I think it is good that marathons are opened to everybody because it can be a tremendous source of motivation and inspiration for people.
absolutromantic absolutromantic 9 years
I've just recently gotten into running, and haven't tackled a marathon yet. However, I think Viva's comments earlier show one of the most valid points about amateur runners (that the article doesn't even really discuss): the fact that walkers/mid-packers/back-of-the-packers often slow down serious runners. I've run a lot of races where I line up at the spot where my pace is supposed to be, and I find that everyone around me is MUCH slower. Unfortunately, that just leads me to choosing to start at the spot where it's supposed to be 2 minutes faster than me (which I realize is contributing to the problem). With the advent of chip timing, it doesn't matter whether you start at the front or the back, and races are less of races in that most people don't run to win. If people would remember that and start at their true pace, I think a lot fewer people would be complaining. I've heard of races where they require some kind of qualifying time to determine where you start (and if you don't have one, you just start at the back). To me that sounds like the fairest solution, because it allows those who want to run fast and have been running for a while to start where they belong, while amateur runners (either who haven't run much before or who aren't in it to win) start at the back until they've paid their dues to running.
anned anned 9 years
I agree with matildaforfree-for some a 5K is a great feat!
matildaforfree matildaforfree 9 years
I think its great for everyone to be getting out there and getting active. Shouldn't we all be encouraging physical activity instead of reserving it for the elite?!
behemoth_the_cat behemoth_the_cat 9 years
Everyone should be allowed to participate! And all people (whose health allows them to) should be striving to run a marathon. It's a great accomplishment. Plus, people won't just be running 26 miles after hopping off the couch; they will have trained for at least several weeks or months before participating, which is great for personal fitness and health!
gumdrops334 gumdrops334 9 years
the whole idea that only true runners should do a marathon is rude, but after reading that that author must have serious issues and needs to stop being so selfish and pompous. It's just like all those "underground non conformists" who will listen to a certain artist until they become popular...once it's popular, oh no that artist must suck. You get what I'm saying. Elitist attitudes leads to others feeling alienated and unincluded.
Arthur Arthur 9 years
Oprah ran in 4:29! whoa. mad respect.
CamieRodan CamieRodan 9 years
Because so many people are fixated on celebrities these days, I think it is actually a good thing that celebs are focused on fitness goals like completing a marathon. I recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC and I saw so many t-shirts and signs that said "Beat 4:29.15" (Oprah's finishing time) or something to that extent. The fact that people set out to beat Oprah, P. Diddy, Katie Holmes's marathon times is great: they are encouraging people to get off the couch and do something that is good for their bodies. And believe me, a marathon is no easy feat. To finish is such an awesome accomplishment. And to counter the author's argument that the "the marathon [is] no longer a competition", what about the Olympics, the elite of the Boston marathon, etc? Those "elite" competitors are still out there - they just have a bigger fan base now. :)
syako syako 9 years
I love reading everyone's comments because you all bring up interesting points. Arthur- I agree with you to an extent - but I think you summed it up yourself in the end when you said some weeks you are and other's you aren't - I think that is the point. We shouldn't have these categories that you can only fit into one and not the other. Sometimes I put on my shoes and do my duty - other times I put on my shoes and after six greuling and ALIVE miles I could keep going but know that my husband must be worried sick. I just hate things that make people feel like the running they do isn't "good enough" for some ad company because they aren't finding dead bodies - or becoming dead bodies! Now with VivaLasVegas's point I can see a great point! I have been running for about two years now and have SLOWLY progressed in my distance. I also believe that training should be serious and TOUGH and that when you do a marathon you should be prepared and strong enough for it. It shouldn't be taken lightly.
bahiachic bahiachic 9 years
I think anyone who wants too should be able to do it. I don't know why it would be an issue for people, the celebs are just running around like everyone else. It hasn't lost status,and no one knows that they aren't serious about the race.
vivalasvegas vivalasvegas 9 years
One more thing -- the failure of American distance running to be consistently competitive at the elite level has NOTHING to do with the increased popularity of running marathons.
vivalasvegas vivalasvegas 9 years
Although I don't agree with the author's point of view, I can also see where he's coming from. It used to be that people would run for years before ever thinking of attempting a marathon, and now people who aren't active at all will sign up and complete one. So I can see where the old school people are coming from (not to mention that a lot of people risk injury by not having a solid running base). But, I think as long as newbies observe race etiquette (i.e. walkers starting at the back and runners lining up at appropriate pace times, staying to the right if you're slower, not running over people at the water stops) everyone can be happy. It's better for everyone overall to be active.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
Actually, I really wish that I had never read that article, because now I'm practically seething. So pompous.
sammyli sammyli 9 years
A marathon is a marathon and I don't think it should be limited to only specific people. It's already very impressive to do 26.2 miles even if it is in 10 hours. So I say go for it and have fun!
nikodarling nikodarling 9 years
I say good for anyone that wants to try it. People like Paula and Lance will have impressive times and be the cream of the crop. I don't think the fact that novices are running as well detracts from their accomplishments at all. They are professional athletes that is their job. I think its condesending and rude to suggest that ordinary people can't partake because we do not have what it takes to match top athletes. Shouldn't the goal of running or any kind of fitness activity be to beat yourself? Or should we all give up if we can't achieve perfection and be at the top?
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
I think that training for and running 26.2 miles, no matter how long it takes you, will always be "an incredible test of physical endurance and speed."
CoMMember13627174328105 CoMMember13627174328105 9 years
There are still some marathons which require a qualifying time to enter (Boston's comes to mind). I think that gives hard-core runners an incentive to race while letting us less competitive athletes run for the sake of meeting a milestone.
Arthur Arthur 9 years
and who knew that perl izumi made running shoes?
Arthur Arthur 9 years
yes, everyone should be able to run the marathon, and it is a great accomplishment from first to last, BUT :)... I followed syako's link to her blog post, and when I read it, I was agreeing with her, until I read the ad copy that prompted her post... there is a difference between a runner that gets out there and dutifully pumps out her 3.5 mi three times a week, and the runner who is driven to run because it helps them feel alive. Of course, sometimes I'm one and sometimes I'm the other.
Saturn9 Saturn9 9 years
I think anyone who has trained for a marathon should be able to participate. The Los Angeles Marathon route used to go by my house, and a lot of folks from the neighborhood would go out & cheer the runners. It was very inspiring to see all the racers, from the wheelchair division, to the elites, to the average joes and janes.
Kelly-O Kelly-O 9 years
I completely agree, anyone who can run more than 26 miles in one day has my admiration and respect - whether they did that in two hours or ten. Anything that encourages physical fitness and activity should be encouraged, at least in my eyes.
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