Poll: Should Slow Runners Be Allowed to Run Marathons, Too?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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A few months ago a college cross-country track coach from New Rochelle College in New York sent shock waves through the running community when she was quoted in a New York Times article stating anyone finishing a marathon in 6 hours or more was taking away the pride from those completing such a prestigious event in a much shorter time frame.

Thankfully, I did not read the article before I ran my first marathon. I am not too sure how I would have responded or if it would have had any adverse effect on my race. While the coach may not be alone in her thinking, I am sure glad I have not met anyone so righteous when it comes to this sport.

Running a distance many people never dare dream to run, much less train for, is an accomplishment, even if you are the last one to cross the finish line. Someone has to be first and someone has to be last. The race is more than just crossing the finish line--it is putting in days, weeks, months, and yes, even years training every week to reach this goal. It's about living a dream.

When I first started running I came across a quote that has always held a special meaning for me, long before I even considered running a marathon. It reads-- "Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's population will dare to complete the distance of a marathon." That means 99.9% of the world's population will not do what many people who run a marathon, no matter their speed, have done--and that is to run a distance of 26.2 miles. These people had to to spend countless hours training for it.That quote was a such huge inspiration that got me through many an early morning training run in the midst of a hot, humid Texas summer.

When I was traveling to Chicago to run my first marathon, I was quite intimidated to see the number of people wearing the gear of previous marathons, especially the creme de la creme of all marathons, Boston. I began to doubt myself as to whether I belonged with these 'real' runners, after all I was just a middle-aged, formerly overweight Mom who had no marathon experience under her belt.

But all my fears were quickly allayed when a gentleman traveling to run in his 20th plus marathon in Chicago, in order to qualify for a faster corral position in Boston, said to me, "A true runner has the heart and the soul for the sport which does not have to be proved to anyone else but oneself." I would like to thank all the Daves of the world who inspire those of us who may not be the fastest, but have the heart to run.

So for all the judgemental coaches in the world and for all the purists in the sport, enjoy finishing your marathon in under 3 hours. Be grateful you will be back at your hotel resting and refueling while all us plodders anxiously wait in the port-a-let lines and get the last medals draped around our necks, only to find the food picked over at the post-run event gathering. Whether you like it or not, we all crossed the same finish line as you and some of the greatest marathoners in the world, as long as we can finished within the allotted time requirements of the race, WE ARE MARATHONERS!

How would you respond to those who believe only the best of the best should be privileged enough to run in an event, even though slower runners can complete the distance in the given time the course is opened? Do these individuals discourage you from living your dream or does it make you more determined to live it?

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    Your only real competitor is yourself. Personally I would be devastated with a 6 hour finish time. But that's because I'm overly competitive, young, and in relatively good shape. A marathon is a huge accomplishment wither it takes you 3 hours or 6. I agree that there should be a cutoff point, but it should allow most walkers to finish. I will have to say though that stopping to eat lunch is going a bit far. Disney requires you to keep a 16 minute pace (7 hour marathon) to avoid being picked up by the sag wagon. That sounds fair to me. - 5/26/2015   1:14:22 PM
  • 409
    i think that person shouldn't be allowed to run in Marathons because they should have a "no idiots allowed" rule too !! - 5/7/2014   10:27:38 AM
  • 408
    I'm one of those "slow runners". I did my first marathon in January of this year in a time of 6 1/2 hours. I can't imagine someone telling me, no, you can't do this, you're too slow. That would have been devastating. Running 5Ks, 10Ks, halfs and full marathons has become a passion of mine. No one can take that away from me. - 3/10/2014   5:39:02 PM
    The runners who finish last are the ones trying the hardest. Some people train and train and don't get as fast as they would like, or in this case need, so why take away the joy and accomplished feeling that you can only get by completing a marathon or ultra? Completing something that the first person who ever attempted it died while doing, and walking away with a slow time shouldn't matter. People who are 'slow' deserve the feeling to. Some people can't physically do it for what ever reasons. Yes people can run the distance at home but it's not the same feeling. However I do think that people who are strictly walkers should have a time limit. I've seen people finish 14 hours. Which is great, they have more respect from me than a 2:30 marathoner because when others would have given up they didn't. But let them finish. Don't ban them, the volunteer crew can go home at a certain time but let them do what they need. I was worried that in my first 50 miler that I wouldn't make the 14 hour cut off. So I pushed myself too hard to finish. I finished in 12:04 for 50 miles. This put me in the hospital for muscle damage and kidney failure. I didn't want to take time to eat. And I was 14 at the time. Personally I think 'slow' runners should be allowed to run. But after a certain time the volunteers can go hkme as they need. Some will stay. But let runners do what they do best and do what they want to do in their one and only life time. This is on peoples bucket list and who are we to take that unexplainable feeling away from them just because they don't have the talent we do. I have an amazing amount if respect for slow runners. Let them do what they do best - 3/9/2014   9:59:27 PM
    As a former "faster" marathon runner (of 2:52:05) it would be sad if I wasn't allowed to run the many 6 hour marathons that I now post. I consider myself blessed that there are four times more marathons available to run than there were in 1984, when I started. There's no way I would have had the privledge of having run 139 marathons in my life, because marathons did used to discriminate against slower runners. I consider the inclusion of higher time limits in many marathons progress, especially in our fast food culture. Incidentally, some of my 6 hour marathons were a lot more painful than my sub 3 hour ones. Being out there 3 hours longer doesnt necessarily mean it's more "relaxing".
    - 7/29/2011   11:56:00 PM
  • 405
    It is the completion of a marathon that should be celebrated, not the time. The Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco does have a course cut-off time of around 7 hours, but there are people who begin walking the course hours before the starting gun goes off, in order to complete the course in the allowed time. These people show courage and determination (not to mention creative thinking) that allows them to be a part of marathons and enjoy the thrill of crossing the finish line. - 5/4/2011   1:55:54 PM
  • 404
    All should be able to run if they meet the qualifications to enter. The event is not only about the fastest runners but a lot of other success stories and accomplishments! - 5/3/2011   9:19:14 AM
  • 403
    I know this is old, but have they considered a line-up similar to a nascar race? Or like regular running events where the walkers and strollers are at the back... I wouldn't think it would difficult to get the "elite" in the front and the slowbies in the back.

    All in all, it sort of pissed me off to think that only the best should run. I jog slower than some people can walk, but I am still doing it, so PPPPSSSTTHHHHHH! - 4/20/2011   1:00:59 PM
  • 402
    I'm getting ready to run a 5k in October...my first! If i would have seen that article in the first place, my comment would have been, "why bother?" - 3/26/2011   4:35:38 PM
    I have run three half-marathons with last two being 3 hours+. Maybe this question should be posed to all the shops/stores that cater to runners/joggers. How much money would be lost if only the very fast runners were allowed to run. I would agree that slow runners need to let the fast runners go by without blocking them which I have seen, but I think a lot of us run for different reasons then speed or competiton with others. In fact, I'm personally happy to see some marathon events that are starting to welcome walkers also. - 9/8/2010   2:31:45 PM
    I give all the cheers to anyone that can finish a marathon in 3 hrs or less. But to say that one other person has no right to run a marathon is just not cool.
    The mental determination and the endurance of a runner that finishes in 6 or more hours is amazing. To stay on track and endure for 6 or more hours is a true athelete in itself.
    Most runners that run a marathon in over 6 hrs, will look for a friendly marathon for their time. We don't invade a marathon that is for 6 or less. We start at a later time. It does not effect the faster runners.
    So I say to anyone that has not run a marathon, go for it. It will change your life. - 9/8/2010   12:09:48 PM
  • 399
    A runner is a runner it shouldn't matter what time frame you finish in... - 9/7/2010   7:50:05 AM
  • 398
    The amount of joy derived from finishing a marathon cannot be described in time. At least not for those of us who can only dream! Kudo's to anyone with the heart and courage to run. - 9/7/2010   12:57:07 AM
  • 397
    I can't walk more than a mile on a GOOD day... though I'm trying to extend that. Running is a long nearly forgotten memory because of health problems. ANYONE that can run, walk, wheel or shuffle 26.6 miles in one day is my hero. What does it matter to this cross country coach who finishes when? If it's one's dream to run in marathon(s) let 'em run.

    IMHO, there is way too much (unhealthy) competition in America. Why can't folks just have fun doing something without making it a competition? - 9/6/2010   11:19:05 PM
  • 396
    I agree with using the classroom analogy (I'm a teacher who teaches those children who are the lowest of the low). If you can't be perfect, don't try? Is that what this woman is saying? For crying out loud, does that now mean if you're not a model who starves herself to fit into the latest fashions, don't wear fashionable clothing? If you aren't going to graduate in the top of your class, and you might take 5-6 years to graduate college, don't bother going?

    What a narrow-minded attitude to take about anything. Sometimes it's not even about finishing something, but being willing to start it that makes all the difference...Keep running, you pokey marathoners! - 9/6/2010   10:21:30 PM
    With this woman's logic and some of those who have posted comments, only A and B students should be allowed in a classroom. I am a back of the packer but have completed 5 marathons and almost 50 half marathons - always within the stated time limits. Some days are better than others but I always try to beat my last race time.

    One comment to the naysayers taking the classroom analogy further: just as you would not discourage a poor student from trying harder to pull up a bad grade, please do not discourage those of us that are trying to improve our personal health. Participating in these events gets me out of the office and off the couch - I enjoy visiting different places and meeting new people. Until I discovered this world, I struggled to find exercise that I enjoyed. Growing up, I was always too small, too short, too slow, the last person picked which discouraged me from participating in exercise. Here I have found something I enjoy and I do work to improve my times - and many times I am not the last one! - 7/23/2010   11:22:07 AM
  • BHABER602
    As long as someone meets the qualifying standards for a race, they should be allowed to run the marathon. However, there is a major difference between finishing in 3 hours and 5+ hours. Running/walking a marathon isn't bad - it's a major accomplishment. But it's entirely different from actually running - and racing - a marathon. - 7/23/2010   9:24:26 AM
  • 393
    I'm hoping this woman was just misunderstood... I've ran a 5k and a half marathon and I think everyone should be able to run/walk it. But, I do have one pet peeve which I'm hoping is what this woman was trying to say - I very much dislike it when people go into the wrong corral and then stop dead in front of you and walk. Normally it's fine, but I had someone do it less than 5 minutes into the half marathon which I didn't think would happen there (and it bugged me at the 5k). It only bothers me because I need to stick to my pace or I have a really hard time to keep going, and it's hard to dodge people while running, it just takes the fun out of it for me. But, all that said, everyone should participate and run it's especially nice to see beginners out. It motivates me to keep going. Also, I've decided I'm just not a race person, it's the crowds that get to me. So, I can do the race on my own without the title - maybe that's what this "coach" should do. - 5/26/2010   3:48:01 PM
    The actual Marathon itself is almost secondary to the discipline and hard work it takes to train for one. Does someone want to monitor that too? Anyone who puts the running shoes on and gets out there is a winner in my book! - 5/24/2010   9:00:02 AM
  • CINDYM19
    I am new to running and cannot run very far at a time but have to walk in between. I am planning on running either a 5K or 10K (depending on how I do between now and the race date) this fall and feel that is an accomplishment. I truly admire anyone who can run a marathon. I think for most people, it is a personal accomplishment not an attempt to win. Let the runners run and the walkers walk. If you have a qualifying time to get into the race, who is this coach to say you shouldn't be there? Shame on her. At this time I cannot imagine walking 26 miles much less running but after this fall maybe I will feel differently. Just like in the movie "What about Bob?" Baby steps, Baby steps. - 5/23/2010   10:12:10 AM
    Excluding people from a marathon because of their speed reflects an elitist attitude. Three weeks after the marathon has ended who recalls the times of the first and last runners? It is a personal challenge that should be inclusive and a source of support and challenge regardless of ones' time. Completing the race is a testimony to the mental discipline and focus of the runner. - 5/22/2010   1:08:24 PM
    Doing your best should be the gauge not your speed. As prefontaine said "doing less than your best is to waste your gift" So you can finish in under four hours and not put as much effort as a 7 hour finisher. - 5/22/2010   11:41:03 AM
  • OH2BFIT3
    I have nothing but complete admiration for anyone who can run a marathon. Shame on this selfish and insensitive woman for her comments. - 5/22/2010   10:44:15 AM
  • BENTLEY792003
    I aspire to running a marathon someday! As a brand new runner I know it will be a long time from now. EVERYONE starts as a "new" runner at one time or another. You don't start out at the head of the pack! Anyone who attempts, should be congratulated for their efforts. Shame on anyone for trying to take that away! - 5/22/2010   10:29:55 AM
    Many people want to run a marathon, I believe it is healthy for them. I believe we all want to win the race, though few actually do. I believe they should be prepared for what is ahead, B4 the actual race. There is always going to be someone who will be the last, no matter how many people join in this race. I believe there should be certain qualifications, B4 being accepted in: for safety rules: you do not want to trample over the slow ones, though the purpose is to run the race & to win. - 5/13/2010   11:48:43 AM
    we are many people and we need to do things at our own pace . they should be allowed to go at their own speed . fast and slow and enjoy each other to enjoy the whole varierty of people who are alive . - 5/3/2010   2:25:54 PM
  • SUSAN9473
    I am one of those people who got picked up by the sag wagon about 3 miles before the finish at the Indianapolis Mini Marathon several years ago. I was really working to improve my health and would have really enjoyed being able to say I completed the event. I do understand the need to clear the streets, but would have liked the opportunity to move to the sidewalk and finish even if I didn't have an escort. - 5/2/2010   9:55:43 PM
  • 383
    What I want to know is how this person can think someone finishing in 7 hours is taking away from the winner, who completed the marathon in under 3, or whatever. The slower person isn't slowing the winner down.

    You would think coaches would WANT more slow runners in the pack. Would want more over weight or unhealthy people to find love in their own sport and attempt their very best . . .even if it's SLOW by race standards.

    Utter ridiculousness. Slow runners take NOTHING from the winners. Nothing at all. The winners probably never even SEE the slower runners . . . they're finishing much further behind while the winner is already celebrating.

    Why would you ever discourage someone from doing something like this??? She doesn't sound like a coach, she sounds like an elitist. - 5/2/2010   11:40:31 AM
  • 382
    I had mixed feelings on this topic. I do agree everyone should get to run and as long as they have the runners separated into their respectful times, this shouldn't be a problem. I remember hearing that some marathons only allow runners with qualifying times so they are already restricting the slower runners in those races. - 5/2/2010   11:32:29 AM
  • 381
    I think the coach needed to have been muzzled before she opened her mouth to stick her foot in it! I have only the most respect for those who even enter a marathon, much less finish - irregardless of the time! - 5/1/2010   7:16:19 PM
  • 380
    Winning a marathon is getting to that start line in the first place and finishing it, regardless of time, and regardless of the shape you're in when you get there.

    I agree that it's the spirit and soul of the runner and nothing to do with his or her time. That coach who said that obviously has no real running experience of his own. It's one thing to get down on others, it's another thing to live it for yourself. - 3/23/2010   1:01:00 PM
  • 379
    No one has the right to determine how anyone else has to accomplish something as challenging as running a marathon. That would be likened to putting limits on how someone should climb Mt. Everest!!!! Shame on you who are doing this!! - 3/8/2010   9:33:26 PM
  • 378
    One of the most important lessons that has been taught to me since I was a small child is WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING! I say way to go to everyone who finishes a marathon, no matter how long it took. Also, shame on this coach for saying such a thing, and shame on the people during her childhood that failed to teach her important life lessons such as everyone is equal and winning isn't the most important thing. - 3/2/2010   12:15:42 PM
  • 377
    I am quite shocked at all the comments that refer to running a marathon as an "ego boost" or just to cross of your "bucket list." Shame on you for discouraging those who wish to challenge themselves and accomplish an amazing fitness achievement.Training for a marathon has been one of the most challenging and grueling things I have ever attempted, and I feel honored to be running my first marathon in a month. And when I cross the finish line with a time of over 5 hours, I will be thinking of all you that were saying I shouldn't have done it. And I'll be smiling :) - 2/25/2010   2:53:28 PM
  • 376
    I certainly think the woman is right as taking over six hours to "run" is more than that person needs to be doing. 90% of the improvement in health is accomplished when a person is able to run a 1/2 marathon, so those who continue to HAVE to do a full one are just doing it for ego. - 2/16/2010   9:49:22 AM
  • 375
    taking part in a marathon is not an easy decision to take; let alone preparing for it and actually participating in it. anyone who is able to do this deserves kudos, not condemnation for being slow. without encouragement a lot of the things we take for granted today wouldn't have been invented. i think the comments that coach made were thoughtless and patronising. - 2/10/2010   3:48:13 AM
    In cycling we have rallies that anyone can ride and races that you have to be licensed and qualified to compete.

    Of course even rallies have to draw the line somewhere. Ride support isn't going to stay long enough to support century (100 mile) riders who are going to take 10 hours to finish. In this caseit simply isn't fair to make the workers who are usually volunteers stay that late. Generally the sag wagon starts sweeping up the slowest riders - 1/31/2010   2:27:31 PM
    I myself follow the tortise and the hare philosophy. it's not the spped it's the end result that counts. Anyone who wishes to participate should never be turned away. The only real competition should be with yourself and not other people. When my son was running cross country at school I told him to only compare himself with his previous time and not with other people. - 1/25/2010   4:21:12 PM
  • 372
    YOU CAN'T CURE STUPID, but you can educate ignorance! Hopefully, she was educate-able; I am sure many people tried. :) - 1/25/2010   6:49:24 AM
  • 371
    The reason that there are so many marathons for RUNNERS to partake of is due to the number of plodders, walkers and other Back of the Pack (BOP) entrants who chip in their registration fees for the event(s). Most marathons are run on public roads and inconvenience many non-runners who have to divert around the runners. If runners want to restrict participation, stay on private property.

    That being said, I support marathons having a published and enforced pace and/or closing time. However, they need to assure that support for participants remains for all maintaining said pace. Too often those BOPing along have to fend for themselves, especially during the later parts of the courses.

    Those of us timed by calendar vs. stopwatch also need to be responsible and courteous participants. Line up at/near the rear of the pack for the start. (Almost all races use timing chips so you aren't penalized by crossing the starting line after the starting gun.) {BTW race coordinators, make sure your sound system is robust enough for those at the rear not to need to move to the front to hear what's going on.} Don't 'race' more than three across; leave room for those wanting to pass. If you need to stop, get off the course. Check for people behind you when you come to a stop! Smile and wave and enjoy your day. - 1/24/2010   8:54:43 PM
  • 370
    How does this coach think that people get to be world class marathoners? It isn't by signing up for the first race when they are 'fast enough'. It is by running and learning. There is no better learning than an actual race. That atmosphere cannot be replicated in training. What a ridiculous assertion by the coach and shame on the NYT for running it. - 1/24/2010   7:56:46 AM
    How sad that some people on this site agree with the article . Clog the race ???? Oiy!
    Anything else you would like us to "make room" for because we are not good enough ?? - 1/24/2010   7:23:29 AM
  • 368
    What a complete shame for an insensitive comment as that from the self-righteous. You don't discourage people for running a marathon. Although they don't finish first at least they finish in the alotted time. Some people are so self righteous they want to oust someone that they think is not in their "league". It takes all kinds to make this world and Everyone's piece makes it Whole!!! - 1/23/2010   12:51:58 PM
  • 367
    The prizes still go to those that finish first. The goal of completion is still a driving force for those that desire to compete. It should not take away the prestige or honor of winning. Joy should be increased that there are so many who wish to complete. - 1/23/2010   8:28:47 AM
  • 366
    How Sad. I will be one of the last ones in but I will work everytime to better my time. I have a drive in me to do this. I am just starting out. Some comments in this make me pity those who feel the article was correct. again How sad. - 1/22/2010   9:55:09 AM
  • 365
    Hells, bells, I can't even RUN a marathon but husband and I walked one in 2001 and walked our last HALF marathon last month. At 55 & 63 (him ready for a knee replacement), we are so proud of ourselves for doing what we CAN do. We are the only ones we know in our family and circle of friends who even walk half marathons.

    I can't be bothered with what anyone thinks about me; the races we do are our motivation for continuing to work on our health. We pay the same money to be in the race and feel the same sense of pride in our accomplishment! - 1/22/2010   6:41:55 AM
  • _MAOMAO_
    Thank you so much! I'm horrified at that coach. Maybe we ought to schedule special running and walking races just for us slow plodders. Maybe we won't let her enter, take that! - 1/22/2010   2:14:18 AM
  • 363
    I think that plodders are fine- but if you're just training for a marathon to check if off of your bucket list, that bothers me. Running is a passion- if you don't love it, please don't clog up the race for the rest of us. - 1/21/2010   5:20:11 PM
  • 362
    HOGWASH! she doesn't even deserve an answer. It is so absurd that striving should be penalized. Anyone who even attempts to complete a marathon should be praised, applauded and envied. Winning doesn't have to be the goal, doing should be enough. - 1/21/2010   3:25:52 PM
    The NY Times article infuriated me, and most of my friends in the running community. It was completely irresponsible journalism, and shows the opinion of a very minor portion of the running community. The running community as a whole is completely open and welcome to all. I just completed my first marathon a couple of weeks ago at Disney World. I trained for 4 months, and given very usual (for Florida at least) cold weather, it took me 7 hours. Friends have since said to me that they never could have imagined being out there for that long. One in particular, for whom the same race was her 20th marathon, said that given the weather conditions if she didn't have the previous 19 under her belt, she wasn't even sure she would have stepped up to the line. It takes pure grit to undertake an endurance event like this, and yes, I am already planning for another in the Fall. - 1/21/2010   11:06:40 AM

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