Running: Is there room for slow runners in big marathon races?
This morning as I was driving to work, I noticed a familiar sight — many people out for a morning run. Some of these people may be running to get fit, while others are training for something more specific, like a marathon.
Running has become more and more popular as a recreational sport, and marathons in particular are feeling this surge in their entries. Last year was a record-setting year, with more people than ever signing up for marathons. Many marathons sold out, while others had more than 10,000 participants, according to runningusa.org.
While races are getting bigger, times are getting slower. A recent article in The New York Times brought to my attention an argument many race directors and competitive runners have been discussing: Should marathons have a time limit?
Photo by Tony Hanks
The fact that marathon times are getting slower at the same time that more people are signing up has some competitive runners miffed. They argue that a race should be just that — and slower folks should get out of the way. However, these slower folks help keep the races populated with entries, and their money also contributes to the success of the race.
There is an equally strong argument for people out to complete their first marathon, regardless of time. These individuals put in as much work as faster racers and are out to complete the same event. Every single person out on the marathon course has worked hard to be there and has improved their health by taking up the sport of running.
Many races have begun to react to the growing numbers of racers, fast and slow. This year at the Chicago marathon, people were split into corrals based on pace, which made for a more fluid race start. Pacers at the Detroit marathon essentially do the same, suggesting people start near the signs with the minute-per-mile pace they expect to run. At the Boston marathon, most runners have to qualify in order to run, and at the New York marathon people can also qualify in order to run in the same year (otherwise runners have to enter a lottery).
Whether races choose to create a cut-off time for slower runners or cap the entry field, the growing number of marathon runners is forcing races to respond with more effective ways of organizing these races without losing the integrity of the event.
What do you think? Should “races” be only for those looking to run a certain pace, or should everyone be allowed to run?
Chelsea Earls is a runner and works at Running Fit in Ann Arbor. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org