What do you mean you “ran” a marathon?

Yesterday I came across a… curious blog post from Jeff Galloway (an incredibly well-respected runner and coach) that got me thinking a bit about that little word “run”.  For those of you who are barely interested enough to read this blog, I’ll give you a rundown of what Jeff said (I’m paraphrasing a good bit): You can complete a marathon (or any race) by alternating 1 minute of running with 1 minute of walking.  By taking this approach, you won’t feel as tired as if you run the whole time, and could potentially finish faster than people who run as far as possible and then are forced to walk later in the race due to fatigue.  He put it to the test again recently and finished right around the 5-hour mark.

I understand the premise behind this, but it makes me question the purpose and motivation of completing a marathon through those means.  This is a hot topic in some forums and people get really fired up over it.  It typically comes down to one side of people saying “you shouldn’t be doing a marathon unless you trained hard to run it” and then the other side chimes in with “what do you care why other people run a race? It’s an individual accomplishment”.  Then there are points made for each side and it ultimately results in a new argument based on a totally ridiculous statement made by one person from either side of the fence.

I guess what strikes me is that idea of planning on not going into the race with the intention of running it.  Way back when, Phidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to tell everyone about the Greek victory over the Persians.  Now, I wasn’t there, but I think it’s safe to assume he didn’t run/walk to get there.  Otherwise his heart wouldn’t have exploded after giving the good news.  I imagine you could make the argument that running a full marathon could make your heart explode, thus run/walking is the way to go, but based on the history (source: the Internet), there were extenuating circumstances (like running 140 miles across mountains in 36 hours, and then back another 140 miles a few days before his marathon run).

In more modern times, running was first seen as an odd thing to do and only the “hard-core” would actually give it a go, especially the marathon distance.  As running has picked up popularity more and more people have dipped their toe in the water (no pun intended, but if I must clarify, they would have removed their running shoes before dipping the toe), creating a bit of a snowball effect.  Now, it’s great that people are out exercising, getting in shape, and showing an interest in running.  In my opinion though, not just anyone and everyone should be able to sign up and run a marathon.  Aside from safety concerns due to undertraining, it somewhat dilutes the accomplishment of those who trained and ran as hard as they could.  This has absolutely nothing to do with how long it takes to finish; it is more based on effort.  For those who have walked a marathon and argue that you were tired afterward, it’s probably because you just walked 26 miles, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the effort was put in to training.

I’m not just venting without purpose.  No sir!  A few non-ground-breaking ideas come to mind.  First, if everyone and their guinea pig are going to be able to register for a marathon, I think a “qualifying” race should be required.  Not necessarily for speed, but actually more for safety.  By making sure someone can complete, say, 13.1 miles first, it may deter those who are not really in any condition to try to complete a full marathon.  On top of that, it will ensure that everyone in the marathon is aware of what it will take to properly train for such a huge distance.

Second, if a “qualifying” event isn’t imposed, then creating a separate “non-running” event may be more appropriate to offer to those who have no intention of running the full event.  Perhaps give it a snazzy, never-used-before name like a walk-athon, geared more towards those looking to complete their own personal goal or challenge.  The gap between walking a marathon and running a marathon is almost as large as running and roller blading.  The events are just different, and should not be considered equal nor held on the same platform.

Just my non-requested thoughts on the matter.  If you agree with me, let me know in the comments.  If you disagree, you’re wrong 🙂 but still let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “What do you mean you “ran” a marathon?

  1. “…it somewhat dilutes the accomplishment of those who trained and ran as hard as they could.” Really? How does the participation of a run/walker – or what is very likely a HUGE accomplishment for that person – taint what you worked so hard to accomplish? Regardless of who else is in the field, you did what you did and you should be proud of it. But, if you feel that these individuals, who obviously lack your physical abilities, are somehow cheapening “your” marathons by participating, then I would suggest that you’re running them for the wrong reasons.

  2. Colin says:

    I think that this issue really comes down to what peoples’ motivations are for doing a marathon. For many people it is something they want to do in order to check it off their list of life goals, or simply to show themselves that they can do something the set their mind too. For others it becomes a lifestyle that allows a person to constantly challenge their limits. I think that the fact that the marathon is held in such high esteem that it is a life goal for people only enhances the accomplishments of someone who runs them regularly. Also, if someone completes a marathon in 5 hours they will have a much larger respect for someone who can do it in 3:30 because they know how hard it is to do.
    In terms of making sure that people are in shape to run a marathon, I would be that the number of people who DNF is not any higher in the group shooting for 5 hours than in the group shooting for 3. The only reason that someone going much slower than me in a race would bother me is if they started in the wrong place and were preventing me from running my best race. This has not been an issue I have faced in a marathon.
    I think the qualifying issue has already been addressed with Boston and since we haven’t qualified yet are we any less of a “marathon runner” than the people who have?

  3. mikeyg83 says:

    As I mentioned, someone slower (or faster) than me is no more or less deserving to line up at the start based on speed. Rather I’m suggesting that doing a marathon without putting in the proper training can trivialize my accomplishment. If enough people decide to sign up and walk for 7 hours just to say “yea, I did a marathon”, it changes the perception of what it takes to complete.

    I understand and completely agree that running is (or should be) a personal undertaking. That’s why I run. But for one to say they don’t care at all what other people think of their achievement puts them in a very select few. So on that level, yes, I think it can diminish my accomplishment.

  4. Evelyn says:

    I second Porky’s opinion. As a non-runner, I’d be thrilled to just finish 26.2 miles and hope it wouldn’t cheapen anything for these crazy runners 🙂

Thoughts? Leave a comment!