Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Marathon - The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

This weekend, of course, is the Twin Cities Marathon. I will not be running it, but will be cheering.

I thought it would be fun to do multiple posts this week talking about "The Marathon". Not just TCM, but marathons all around the world, and the evolution the marathon.

Disclaimer - Some of what I will say here might offend some of you, or cause you to think I am an arrogant ass, or an eliteist. I really don't intend to, but many have taken my opinions the wrong way.

With that said, let's look at the good.

The Good
Who would have thought that a marathon would be a marketing opportunity for a city? Only a short 20 years ago, there were few marathons (comparatively), and most of them were big city marathons.

My first was Chicago in 1991 (I was a student at Northwestern, and a bunch of us thought it would be a cool thing to do). I think around 5,000 people finished that year. I heard they accepted 45,000 this year.

Back then, the Chicago Marathon was on the verge of extinction. It took LaSalle banks to come in as a sponsor to save them. It is now a very profitable race.

I don't know much of the histroy of the Twin Cities Marathon, other than the fact that it used to be a figure 8 course around the lakes in uptown.

I don't know when it happened, but the marathon became a pop culture icon. It became an ultimate challenge for some, a "bucket list" item for some, a midlife crisis resolution, and the list goes on. Because of this, the demand to run a marathon everywhere became a reality.

Not having run most of these, I can't speak to how well they are executed. I did run Whistlestop last year in Ashland, WI. That is quite a contrast to Chicago. Not only in size, but in charm. Whistle stop is in its 11th year, I believe, and they do a great job. It's great for the community too. All of the runners and spectators come to the area for the weekend, and the town celebrates it.

Duluth is not a small town, and Grandma's is one of the oldest races. What would Duluth be without Grandma's? That town celebrates the marathon, and loves hosting it. They understand that they need the marathon to keep that city together. (and they rob the runners blind with hotel rates). But that's okay.

The Bad
Some cities became so focused on the pr, and all of the stuff outside of running. They have made it a circus.

I don't know the status now, but the LA Marathon had a real bad rap for many years. Poorly managed. They used to have a "marathon bike tour" BEFORE the race. You could ride your bike on the whole route, get crap on the course, etc. They started this at 7am, thus making the marathon start at 9 or 930. They even marketed the bike tour as a tough think to do.

Sorry, riding a bike 26 miles ain't that hard. Maybe with a flat tire.

They would also spend a half hour at the start honoring all of the corrupt politicians who made this calamity happen. I used to live there, and the LA politicians are a real bad bunch.

Somewhere in there these cities realized they could compete to be the "biggest" marathon in the world, and another race was on. Bigger is not better, but they don't care. While it is fun to do one of these, one is all I recommend.

Chicago proved last year that they were not capable managing that large of a race. Throw bad weather in there, and managing 35,000 runners becomes a problem. Their solutiong, accept 45,000 entrants. I believe they expect 5-10 thousand not to show up. People blame the runners as much as the race directors for last years' Chicago (which I agree with), but it shows where their motivations are. It is a money maker.

I am glad Twin Cities and Grandmas have kept their integrity by limiting the field to 10 thousand. It creeps up a little every year, but it is still under control. Twin Cities had almost the same weather as Chicago last year, and a lot fewer problems.

The Ugly
Well, not really the ugly, but I loved that movie.

This brings up the people who run these. I believe too many people toe the start line who are completely unprepared to do the race. And yes, it is a race. You don't have to run it as one, but it is a race. (I actually do believe some of these races should have an alternative "fun run" to take the stress off the race).

Take the cutoff times.

Luckily, TCM still has a respectable 6 hour cut off. I saw one years ago which had a 7.5 hour cut (it was a flat, road race).

At some point, you dilute the race by letting anybody at any pace say "I ran the marathon".

Now, I will be the first to admit I don't run all of my races. When people ask about Superior, I saw "i walked half the damn thing". I don't say I ran 100 miles, because I didn't.

But, a course like TCM needs to hold some sort of integrity to the race. Most people should be able to run/walk a sub 6 marathon (excluding people with serious obstacles). If you can't, you probably need to lose some weight and put together a real training program.

Problem is, we don't celebrate all of the tough things people do to prepare for a good race. We don't celebrate someone saying "I am going to lose 30 pounds, and run a marathon". We only celebrate the running of the marathon. The prep and training is harder than the race.

This bings me to one of my major pet peeves. (this is where i make people mad)
"It's all mental anyway"
That quote is a load of BS in my opinion. I believe it was invented by people who don't want to put in the hard work to run a good race, so they cop out with that line. Yes, there are mental aspects of it, but most of the mental toughness is needed during the training.

I don't know anyone who has run a Boston Qualifier and said, "yeah, that was all mental".

I having nothing against the mental crowd, I just wish they would understand that YOU CAN change your lifestyle to be a runner. But it involves diet with training.

This post is long enough, but there are a few other happier topics on the marathon I will post about later.

The runners who inspire mewho are running this weekend. You might be surprised.


Runnin-from-the-Law said...

Bigger is not better? I thought I heard somewhere that it was.

I'm glad you are posting about the marathon this week. Fun reading in preparation for Twin Cities and my first marathon! I'd like to try Whistlestop sometime too (assuming I survive TCM). I've heard good things about it.

SteveQ said...

When I ran Grandma's marathon the second time (1983), the cut-off was still 4:30. That would eliminate almost all the people who haven't seriously trained, if they'd go back to it. I stopped congratulating people who told they qualified for Boston after the qualifying time was no longer 2:50 (what I did to qualify).

So... I'm an elitist.

Carl Gammon said...

I certainly agree that anyone can train and run a marathon.

Yes, there are plenty of people doing only what they need to finish and call themselves marathoners. Today's middle of the pack is where the back of the pack used to be. Even very worthy charity groups like Team In Training look for marathons where their "walkers" division can participate and finish.

That being said, it is still something that very few people accomplish. They deserve credit for that. And for those that do train hard and run hard, no matter what pace, they really have my admiration.

But at some point, people stopped looking at me like a crazy oddball when I called myself a marathoner. I guess that's when I started running ultras.

wildknits said...

Hate to be nit-picky but... as a Duluthian I feel I need to speak out. Grandma's is NOT what holds this town together. Far from it! It is one weekend in the summer where:

- my husband either a) cannot go to work or b) has to go in ridiculously early and is stuck out on Park Point all day

- many Duluthians flee town or stay up on the hill as you cannot get anywhere in or around downtown or up the near northshore for half the day

- folks who live along HWY 61 cannot leave their homes (if they did not flee before the roads closed).

Yup - hotel rates are crazy in Duluth - and that is true almost all summer and fall. It is amazing what people will pay and that is why the rates are so high. I have a friend who owns a small hotel in Ashland, the weekend of Whistlestop he can ask almost any price for someone who didn't make an advance reservation - capitalism at work (not that I am necessarily a fan of unbrdled free market stuff).

Sorry Matt - don't think you are elitest - just uninformed about Duluth in this case.

Me - After years of volunteering at a water station at Grandmas and running the half-marathon a few times, I now head in the opposite direction. Prices are way too high, you don't get a whole lot for your money, and, as a local, the course ain't 'all that' (plus I hate running on roads). I believe I headed to jay cooke state park that weekend for a nice long training run without all the crowds and hoopla. : )

Helen said...

Not sure where I stand on cut-off times. I totally agree people should train for a marathon (and training is absolutely where you build mental strength) but still think it's fair game to walk an entire one. That is still a great achievement and it's not like we'd want to organise seperate "running" and "walking" marathons. Well, maybe Duluth would. Though I have to say despite the prices it is absolutely my fav road marathon. I've ran my slowest and fastest times there and loved both occassions just the same. Ok, maybe not an entirely true statement. But close.


keith said...

I cannot imagine walking 26.2 miles on pavement. I would go batshit insane.

Unless I was in da woods. Then no problem.

That said...

But there are no rules that say you've got to run...Whatever you have to do to cross the finish line (because your idea of endurance isn't someone else's idea of endurance)
is fair game. I don't care if someone "BQ's." Ugh. However, I viscerally understand "PR's."

I think if someone thinks they are all that, they should do it hopping on one leg, or running backwards, or skipping rope, or dragging a sack of cement, or ON TRAILS...Then they can brag about BQ-ing.

I will be far, far away from the hoopla.