The following is written by Mary Wittenberg, the President and CEO of the NY Road Runners. You can see her Wiki page here. I do believe that Ms. Wittenberg is my new hero.
I love that the New York Times covers running as much as it does. I also love that we can count on the Times to “be at the center of the debate.”
Let me share New York Road Runners’ side of the debate as to whether "plodders" have a place in the marathon. Our answer begins with this: Both the term “plodders” and the question posed miss the essence of the beauty and power of the marathon.
We at NYRR stress the strenuous, demanding nature of the marathon. We don’t say that it’s for everyone. We conduct over 50 events a year from the mile to the marathon, and clinics and classes that ensure we “have a place for every pace.” We promote the marathon as the Mt. Everest of running. In other words, the ultimate goal. One that takes careful and rigorous preparation. But we specifically don’t say – “you’ve got to be fast to do it.”
To us, it’s about conquering the distance and conquering self doubt. The marathon is about dreaming to achieve and putting in all the work to make that dream reality. That quest, and the runner's ultimate success, routinely changes people’s lives in rich and meaningful ways. Our runners, no matter the pace, typically overcome all kinds of hurdles and challenges to reaching the marathon finish line. It is that ability to persevere that translates to other parts of their lives. Making them stronger and better for the pursuit – well beyond improved physical fitness.
We don’t encourage people to walk the marathon or to take 8 hours to complete it. It is a running event after all. But, it is 26.2 miles – a huge challenge – no matter how fast you are. Ask most marathoners – we’ve all been humbled by the distance at some point. It tends to make us appreciate the efforts of others. Most faster runners I know have a great deal of respect for slower runners (it is tough to be out there longer) and vice versa (it’s “incredible” how fast “they” run).
The marathon is not easy. I am a pretty serious runner. Though occasionally tempted, I haven’t run a marathon in 15 years. I know what it takes, and I know what it takes out of you. There is no debate about how hard it is. So it’s okay – you need to walk a little? Then walk a little. Do what it takes to accomplish the goal of finishing, and be smart about it too. In NYC, our roads reopen at a rolling 6½ hour marathon. We score at the finish until 8 hours, because sometimes folks have a really tough day. They don’t plan on 8 hours, but it happens. And, we are pleased to host the largest contingent of disabled athletes of any major marathon, and the extra time helps them too. We are fortunate – with our final miles largely inside Central Park rather than on the streets - that we can offer this possibility.
On Sunday, November 1, we’ll host 40,000 runners from around the world. We’ll celebrate our superhuman champions who cross the finish line first, stand in awe of all of those that break the coveted 3 hour mark, high five those who qualify for Boston and cheer those that crack the formidable 4 hour barrier. Then you can bet we’ll welcome - with open arms and a hard earned medal - each of our finishers who, despite the challenges, cross our rarified finish line.
A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time. Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day’s effort, be it fast or slow. It’s all in conquering the challenge. Ask any marathoner you meet in NYC on Monday, November 2.
- Mary R. Wittenberg
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