Earlier this Fall, the New York Times published the opinion of Adrienne Wald (http://bit.ly/68SGpE), the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle who tried to discredit the efforts of the runners at the back of the pack in today's marathons. Her thoughts are similar to a very tiny minority of runners that I have heard from during the 51 years I have been running, and especially since I ran my first marathon in 1963. Obviously, running has a few arrogant snobs, as one will find in any sport or activity. These narcissistic elitists tend to set an arbitrary marathon standard and determine that "anything slower that what I say is not acceptable". Fortunately for society, today's marathon organizations determine who can enter and finish marathons. Those at the end tend to inspire us more than others.
I regularly communicate with over 30,000 runners a year, and have found them to be quite honest in their thoughts about issues like this. Based upon the tiny number of statements similar to Ms. Wald, during the 40 years that I have been coaching, I believe that her opinion is shared by about 1/1000th of a percent of today's runners. Almost all of the runners I hear from respect anyone who takes on the marathon challenge because it tends to change one's life for the better. I've spoken to hundreds of very accomplished people (CEOs, engineers, inventors, artists, professors, even professionals in other sports) who place the finishing of a marathon at the top of their list of lifetime achievements.
While we are experiencing an epidemic of obesity due to inactivity, one-tenth of one percent of the population gets off the couch, and makes the difficult journey to the marathon finish line. The challenges experienced during the extended training and the race itself force almost every marathoner to dig deeply. Most discover hidden resources which empower them to confront other challenges in life. According to several experts that I have interviewed, each back-of-the-pack marathoner influences several dozen sedentary citizens to change their health behaviors for the better.
The finishing of a marathon bestows a unique sense of worth that can last for a lifetime – regardless of finish time. We need to salute the efforts of those at the back who did not inherit the genetic material to run on a collegiate cross country team, but who inserted training into busy career and family schedules, improved their health and inspire others.