Is it rude to ask someone their marathon time? In the aftermath of the biggest ever Dublin marathon so many limped, waddled and crawled into work the following week to the inevitable question …. So ….what was your time? And I’d be pretty sure that continued for the rest of the week “I hear you ran the marathon. That’s so great. What was your time?” But why are they asking, because most don’t have the faintest idea what a good marathon time is and someone even asked “Did you win?” Nowadays to determine value we measure and compare everything. Sometimes we make a habit out of defining success based on how we measure up against others but our race times really don’t matter.
It’s been suggested that we are in the grips of a second running boom – everybody is running. The first running boom was in the 1970s. The idea of jogging as an organised activity was first seen in the sports pages of the New Zealand Herald in February 1962, former athletes and fitness enthusiasts met once a week to run for “fitness and sociability” and the “Auckland Joggers’ Club” was born. This is thought to be the first use of the noun “jogger”. University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman (cofounder of Nike) after jogging in New Zealand in 1962, published the book “Jogging” in 1966. This popularized jogging in the United States and around the world. We would appear to be in the midst of a second running boom. The result has been the explosion of a plethora of fund-raising 5k fun runs, small-town races and a marathon somewhere in the country on every weekend of the year. Running has moved from the fringe to the main stage.
But why are so many still reluctant to call themselves runners. Trying to call someone a runner is often construed as an accusation, answered aggressively with “I AM NOT A RUNNER, I ONLY JOG!!! Runners run because they love to, joggers run because they like biscuits, pastry and maybe even beer but want to fit into tight jeans. Everyone runs for different reasons, different personalities looking to complete a race in different ways and times and for different motives. Go to watch any race this weekend and it will be filled with these different characters and personalities. The “serial stretchers” will stretch right up until the start. The “Boozer” will try a warm up mile and is planning to run off the guilt and hangover of the night before. The “midlife crisis” will be overdressed in unforgiving lycra and ready to burn off the overindulgence of his thirties, and he’s warming up with the “underdresser” who will probably be wearing shorts that are two sizes too small. The “loner” will have headphones in and will avoid eye contact, while the “Footballer” sporting his club socks and GAA shorts will wondering what all the fuss is about. The “real runners” are bounding up the road hoping it will all start soon so they can leave these “running riffraff” behind.
BANG ….. and the “quick starter” sprints the first 200 metres closely followed by the “Footballer” before both are forced to stop and recover once out of sight of the start line and the “real runners” trot past giggling. A couple of miles in and the “puzzlingly good portly runners” shatter the egos of their thinner colleagues as they cruise past effortlessly and everyone tries to avoid the “spitter” who uses the race to empty their sinuses. The “silver haired sensation” sneaks through the field unnoticed to smash the hopes of younger runners. And now as the finish line is in sight it’s the “big finishers” chance to shine, they have waited and held back so they can put in an eye-catching sprint finish , closely followed by the “Boozer” who just wants water!
Some worry that running has lost its elite edge. Do plodders and slower Joggers have a place in marathons or even the local 10km race? Sweeping statements about others not being fast or serious enough to be a ‘proper runner’ are common. Dr George Sheehan, cardiologist, running columnist and arguably the “first” running boom’s foremost philosopher, wrote that the distinction between a runner and a jogger was a signature on a race application. If you are motivated enough to train for and take part in an organized running event, then you were a runner regardless of your finishing time. Anyone willing to risk public failure in order to be a part of the running community, no matter what his or her pace per mile might be, is a runner. This same man began jogging in his back yard (26 loops to a mile) and five years later, he ran a 4:47 mile, which was the world’s first sub-five-minute time by a 50-year-old. The beauty of running is its inclusivity because of its individuality. Anyone with a will and pair of runners can participate – you don’t need team mates, expensive kit or even ability. Marathon organisers have realised that the increasing participation levels and appeal of marathons, driven by those amateur runners is the reason the sport is so popular. Familiarity is critical to engagement, engagement is critical to audience, and audience is critical to sponsorship and publicity – they need the plodders to fund the elites prizemoney, they need the elites to inspire the joggers.