If you’re a runner or interested in all the running things, I’m sure you must have glanced at Kevin Helliker’s Wall Street Journal Piece, The Slowest Generation. In it, Helliker takes on the idea that today’s runners are slower than their predecessors, that medals for finishers reinforce a spirit of non-competition and that “fun runs” are ridiculous because they’re not timed and everyone wins.
I admit. I was a little sensitive when I read it first time. And the second time.
In the last few months, I’ve read a similar article, complaining that untimed color runs and “fun runs” are ruining the sport. The tenor of the piece and some of the comments made me so angry that I closed out of it and I can’t find it again.
And then I read this blog post from There Are Two Sides entitled “Where Slow Runners are Made Fun Of” and my heart broke for Amanda. Quite frankly, she’s out there, doing something healthy for herself, no matter how physically hard it is. And then she has to be subjected to the mental difficulty when people judge her for making the efforts. I call shenanigans.
I chewed over all of these for a few days and now I’m dipping my toe in the pool to offer my two cents. Ok, maybe four cents.
Other, more eloquent, writers will touch on some reasons that the average race times are getting slower: larger race fields, greater accessibility to races, the increase in female competitors, to name a few.
I, however, have a bit of a different perspective to throw in the mix.
The general consensus from these articles and their commenters is that the younger generation (and I have one foot planted in what I consider “younger” while the other is tentatively touching in “not-quite-middle”) is not competitive. Doesn’t have the drive or the desire to be the best. Is perfectly content not to push the bar and strive for the top. And those who feel this way would have you believe that fun runs and getting finisher medals, even if you come in dead last, is a symptom of the greater epidemic sweeping our society: that this generation of whippersnappers is content to wallow in mediocrity.
And I kind of have to laugh a little at that.
Quite frankly, I think the people of this generation are under the impression that we have to be the best at everything. We have to be the best people and the best parents and the best employees. We have to serve the best, organic, from-scratch meals on the most repurposed dining room table, found at the thriftiest of thrift shops. We are compelled to create the most adorable bento box lunches while still getting out the door to work on time, sporting the cutest, most polished ensembles and most artfully painted nails. If we’re not running our own businesses, we have to volunteer to head up teams at the office, and then turn around to coach little league on Saturdays or chaperone field trips during the week. We have to stay in shape, harvest from our own backyard gardens and still manage to invent Pinterest-worthy activities for the kids to keep them away from the dreaded screentime.
We have a television show dedicated to the competition of cutting coupons.
And then? Then? For funsies? The “not so competitive” people? We turn around and pay our hard-earned money to get up early on their weekends and participate in socially geared, organized events such as a mud runs, with our friends and/or families. We travel hours from our homes to sweat it out in timed road races, fighting for PRs and the sense of satisfaction that comes with them.
These people get accused of not pushing ourselves enough. Here I thought sleeping in on Saturday morning and then slogging to the nearest Denny’s in yoga pants and a holey college football t-shirt for a Moons Over My Hammy breakfast was the mark of a true slacker. Boy, do I have it wrong.
When I started running, I had some running friends who encouraged me. They are marathoners and ultra-marathoners. People I consider amazing athletes. I shared with them my fears and hesitations. That I would be too slow. That I wouldn’t belong. That I could never be a real runner. That people would laugh at me. To every concern I raised, they told me, sincerely and without a hint of irony, that I was wrong. That I wasn’t running against everyone else, but against myself. That no one cared about my time and that I had to do my best and chase myself. Because that’s what would make me a true runner.
I believed them.
Which is why I, like so many others I know, set the alarm for three and four and five in the morning, rolling out of bed and outside before the sun and my family rise, so that I can put in my miles according to my training schedule. It’s why I pore over websites, trying to find the right speed workouts and tempo strategies to keep my pace moving forward, while I build my distance Why I stretch and do yoga and lift weights in between errands and carpool.
Running is my time for me. I run for my health and fitness, and for my own personal challenge. I run for my husband and for my son, so that we can have a shared interest and to model making time for physical fitness and self. I may not ever qualify for Boston or stand on a podium at the finish line, but for me, it’s not about that. It’s about claiming some me-time and setting tangible goals to meet. It’s about doing something that I, a stay-at-home mom in her mid-thirties with nary an athletic bone in her body, never thought I would be able to do, let alone enjoy.
I never, in a million years, thought anyone would begrudge that feeling.
Perhaps the landscape of running is changing, not because runners aren’t as competitive as they used to be, but because they are so tired of the constant competitiveness in their everyday lives that running has become an outlet for stress rather than a hunt for number one. Maybe, with obesity on the rise and schedules so crammed with the demands of work and home and extracurriculars, running is the one thing that many people can do consistently, on their own time and at their own pace. It’s possible that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to balance everything and rigorous training, as well.
There are a lot of reasons that average race times are increasing, but I think it’s unfair and inaccurate to assume that a lack of drive and hard work among the younger set is one of them.
Healthy competition is a good thing. However, it’s also a good thing to be able to downshift and enjoy the spirit of something like a race or a fun run as a healthy and active event.
As for me, even though my pace is slower than I’d like ti to be(and probably slower than would be considered “competitive” by those who are care about such things), I’m going to be out there, three and four days a week, pushing myself to my limits so I can earn my finisher medals. Maybe I’ll be out there alone, pouring sweat, watching my form and pushing my pace. Or maybe I’ll be out there in a sparkly skirt and glow bracelets, jogging with my girlfriends and stopping for pictures along a particularly fun route.
One thing you can count on: I’ll be out there, running my races for me, and loving every minute of it.