Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Response to the NYT Article - by Mary Wittenberg

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Judgmental much?

I just found out that I've never run a marathon. And, there's a very, very good chance (unless the stars align just right and the angles sing and I'm granted with some kind of never-before-heard-of miracle) that I will not run NYC next week either. Apparently, according to this article in the NY Times, and according to a couple of lovely ladies quoted therein, unless you run faster than a 6 hour race, it's like you never did it. AND, to top it off, not only have you not run the race, you have ruined it for everyone else who "deserves" to be there (aka: Speedy McSpeederson).

Funny. I feel like I've trained for the last several months. And I vaguely remember participating in some large, long distance event in Denver last year (silly me, I thought it was a Marathon, but I guess I was wrong). I guess I'll just be heading out to New York next week to run around the city (but not literally, since I don't do that) and take in the sights. I'm so glad these women set me straight before I embarrassed myself!

But now seriously - I'm out there for hours, upon hours at a time. Do you think I wouldn't like to be faster? Trust me, I'd love to get out there, bust out 26 miles and get home in time to catch the morning news. The fact of the matter is, it's just not gonna happen, at least not this time. I've trained hard, trying to keep a balance between running, exam studying, working and trying to remind the hubs that he's still married. I don't think I've worked any less - or any more - than most people. Yes, there are some that put in 100 mile weeks...and there are some that put in 10 mile weeks, but I really think that for the most part, I'm right there in the "average" section with most of them.

The thing is, being out there for 6+ hours is a long time. It's that much more time to allow negative thoughts into your head, more time to question your sanity, to wonder if you're capable, if you've done the right thing, if you should keep going, for injury to set in or flare up. I'm not saying that being slow makes me (or anyone) better than someone who's fast, but being out on a course for that much time really messes with your head and your body in ways that being out there for 3 hours can't.

I usually hate it when people tell me that I'm their inspiration or a superhero or things like that. I don't deserve any of that. I'm just a girl who decided to try something one day - the same as anyone else can be. We ALL have the ability to do things like this - and even more than this. But when there are people out there saying "No, you don't deserve the opportunity to be out there because you don't meet my standards," it really bothers me. It takes away some of our ability and it hinders some people who already have doubts. I think we need to remember that there will always be the people you can't please, and as long as you're making yourself happy - and doing things for YOU - you'll keep on rocking on. And that's what running is about anyway.

I need to give credit to The Athena Diaries, which is where I found this article. The Athena Diaries is written by a tough, amazing triathlete, marathoner, ultramarathoner that I've met once before at a race. She probably doesn't remember me, but her blog has helped me through my training many, many times.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Slow Can You Go?

I found this RunnersWorld.com today and I thought it was perfect. There have been so many times I've had this question myself. Most times I manage to keep the mindset that as long as I'm not walking (or crawling - there are times I want to do that!), I'm running, no matter how slow...but other times, it's hard to NOT get down on myself for my speed - or lack thereof.


October 07, 2009

When Is a Runner a Runner?

Dear John, I'd like your honest opinion about something, not the "politically correct" answer. How slowly do you think it is possible to actually "run" by the accepted definition of running? Although I know there are extreme possibilities, I am talking about the most likely scenario for an average person. To be more specific, do you think it is possible that a person can "run" a 20-minute mile? If so, have you ever actually witnessed someone running that slowly with both feet coming off the ground?

I hear the politically correct answer all the time: that anyone who says they are running is really running, even when it's obvious that they aren't. However, with all due respect to the folks who make that claim, I just don't think it is true anymore than a 6-year-old who jumps off a table and says he's "flying" is really flying. Honestly, John, what do you think? - Mary

Hi, Mary. Thanks for giving me a chance to address this issue. It comes up all the time and, to be honest as you request, the answer also changes all the time.

First, a little history. If you go back to the late 1970s or early '80s, most of the training books talked about running as a 7-minute-per-mile pace or better. Anything slower was considered jogging. So, joggers were all of those who didn’t run at a 7-minute pace. Runners knew who they were by their pace.

Somewhere, as the first signs of the second running boom began to appear, running came to be defined as anything faster than a 9-minute pace. Again, joggers were defined as those who went slower than that. And, again, runners defined themselves by their pace and finish times.
About 10 years ago, however, runners stopped being defined by their times and were instead defined by their activity. So, runners ran. Walkers walked. Cyclists cycled. Triathletes triathaleted. You get the idea.

These days, I don’t think anyone can define anyone else by any objective criteria.
One of my favorite stories is of being in the late stages of a marathon and a volunteer asking me if I wanted an orange slice. I said “no,” that I had to stay focused on running. He said “That’s OK, I’ll just walk along with you.” In my mind I was running, and running hard. The truth was that I was moving at an easy walking pace.

So, who runs? At what pace? I don’t think anyone can say. What’s running for me today may not be running tomorrow. What’s running for someone at 25 years old will be very different when they’re 45.

Why worry? Only you can decide for you. And you can’t decide for anyone else.

Waddle on,


John “the Penguin” Bingham, Runner’s World columnist

Sunday, October 4, 2009


This is the elevation chart from my 18 mile run, which I did on Friday. I'm still sore. The hubs and I had a friend who would tell us "You live in Albuquerque. You can't escape the hills," every time we would complain about riding our bikes uphill. I loved to point out to him that the Bosque trail is flaaaat and in Albuquerque, but still - I got his point. NYC is 4 weeks from today and considerably flatter than this was. There are really only a couple of hills (the nastiest is at Mile 15 and is really only nasty because it's on a bridge with no spectators). You can see the elevation chart here. Oh, and this 18 miler was done at a minimum elevation of 5,911 feet....NYC? 0 feet. :)