Firstly let’s be absolutely clear on something. I am a firm believer in the inclusive nature of running. I am almost fanatical about getting people to take up running and stick with it through the first few difficult months, until it clicks and they find the love. I am working towards getting qualified in order to help people start running, run better, run faster, run further…I want to teach the world to run!
However, I saw a conversation the other day that got me thinking, and the more I thought the more I got cross, and the crosser I got the less popular I imagined my opinion would be…but now I’m not so sure and so I am asking you, dear reader, for your input.
Should marathons be accessible to all?
The reason I ask is this conversation, which appeared on a marathon’s Facebook page (I’m afraid I can’t remember which and can’t find it now otherwise I would link to my source). Someone had complained that last year they had almost been swept up by the bus after 6h30m on course and with 7 miles still to go. They were demanding the course stay open later for all the slower runners and walkers who couldn’t finish inside the cut off. This got me thinking, are they right to complain? Should marathons be there for walkers and people who can’t manage more than 20 minute/mile pace? Does that undermine what is happening at the other end of the field?
I thought I might be alone in resenting those that had cheapened my marathon achievement, until I found this article from the New York Times in 2009. To précis what they say marathons have become about completing not competing (not necessarily with others but with yourself and the clock). Thousands now turn up on the start line with the minimum training and plod through 26.2 miles, finishing hours after the bulk of the field. They get the same t-shirt, the same medal and the same bragging rights as those runners that committed to a 16 week training plan of speed sessions, ice baths, clean eating and long runs.
Another point to be clear on, I am absolutely not being elitist. I’m yet to break the 5 hour mark in a marathon (but I’m doing everything possible to change that in Edinburgh this May!). I’m not suggesting marathons should become more exclusive, but I do think that they should be reserved for those that put in the work and are there to run. A 6h30m cut off is an average 15 minute mile, that’s enough even for a slower runner who’s wheels fell off at 18 miles to get in, surely?
What’s your opinion on the sanctity of marathons? Should anyone be able to walk 26 miles and call themselves a marathoner or should they be the reserve of the serious, committed runner?