Running: Let the slower runners run

Posted: May 05, 2014

I can already feel the wave coming: "Put a qualifying time on the Broad Street Run to get rid of all the slow runners."

I hear this every year after Broad Street, usually from very fast runners who either didn't get into the race because it sold out before they registered (or, in the last two years, didn't make the lottery), or they are complaining about how slower runners crowd the race. I cringe every time I hear it. Sometimes, they're talking about the back-of-the-pack runners, and sometimes they're talking about average runners like me.

This is ridiculous. And here's why.

In March, my 59-year- old mother ran her first 10-mile race. She started running last year. In her first 5K, she finished dead last. Since then, she has dropped her 5K time by five minutes and is eyeing up her first half-marathon for this fall. One of her first questions after I finished the Charlottesville Marathon, where she was a spectator, wasn't, "What race are you going to do next?" but "What race are we going to do next?"

Her goal for the 10-miler was to finish before the course closed, and she made it. To get there, she hired a running coach and is now a student of the sport. She keeps getting faster, and I expect that when she runs that same 10-miler next year, she'll be closer to the middle of the pack.

Not everyone is born with the genes to be a sub-three-hour marathoner (or sub-four-hour marathoner). We can do things to make us faster, such as track work and hill runs and mile repeats. But at the end of the day, some people are just born quick. No matter how hard I train, I am never going to run a sub 3-hour, 30-minute marathon. I'll be lucky if I run a marathon in under four hours, despite training over 50 miles a week when I'm preparing. I'm about 20 minutes faster than the median finishing time for U.S. female marathon finishers. I'm ecstatic just to be there.

That doesn't make me, or my mother, or the person who finishes in last place Sunday, any less worthy of being on the course. We paid our fee. We're part of the running community, and we're helping it expand.

Running has become a more welcoming activity, which is why it has grown so quickly. When my mother was in high school, women didn't even have an Olympic marathon to run. Thirty years ago, seeing a new 59-year-old runner on a 5K course would have been like spotting a unicorn prancing down the street with a leprechaun on its back.

I'm glad it's not that way anymore, and that no one blinks when my mother or I line up on the starting line. Running is for all of us - no matter what our times.

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