Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 24 Mar 2007 06:39:45 -0400

Who's Right, Who's Real?


Imagine you are training for your first marathon. You're filled with equal parts excitement and uncertainty. One simple conversation can dampen the former and heighten the latter.

A first-timer from my Marathon Team told of meeting another runner. They learned that both of them were training for the same race.

One woman boasted of "running my fourth 20-miler last weekend." The one from my group, who'd just reached 15 for the first time, wondered if she was doing enough.

"What program are you on?" asked the first woman. The other said she trained with my group.

The harder-training runner went silent, her face clouding over. "Oh," she finally said. "You're one of THOSE."

Those what? "Those run-walkers who take all day to finish. I wouldn't think of myself as a real marathoner if I ever walked."

Never mind that she confused me with Jeff Galloway. Never mind that Jeff has trained more marathoners than perhaps any other individual, or that many of his trainees could run/walk ahead of this woman. Never mind that walk breaks are only a downplayed option for my Marathon Teams, not a requirement.

I relate this story because the sentiments expressed by that woman need exposing and rebutting. They separate runners into camps -- one side right and real, the other side unschooled and unworthy.

The sport is above that, or should be. That's reason enough to speak out against this thinking every chance I get.

This happened last fall when I answered a article headlined an article, "Running with Slowpokes: How Sluggish Newbies Ruined the Marathon." (See "Speaking of Slowpokes," RC 647.) Another rebuttal to appears in the current Marathon & Beyond ("Not So Fast," March-April 2007).

That isn't a new view. Before Running Commentary went online nine years ago, the old paper version of this newsletter carried a series defending the slow. The first of them airs again here, and the other two will run next week.


(rerun from March 1998 RC)

The three of us ran all-comers track meets together in the summer of 1963. Roy Benson was stationed in the Bay Area with the Coast Guard, Jeff Johnson was a Stanford student, and I was out from Iowa to run every race I could.

That summer deepened our love for the sport to the point that we've never left it. We all would make a living from it. Only the directions we've taken in running have differed.

Roy coaches, acts as a spokesman for Polar heart-rate monitors and directs running camps. Jeff once sold Tiger shoes, then helped found Nike and moved on to coach. I still do what started that summer of '63, which is to report on running.

I've stayed friends with Roy and Jeff for all these years. But that isn't to say that we always agree on all matters running.

Roy wrote, "My coachly frustrations surface when I see you and other experts giving runners general advice based only on your own experience as runners. I hope that you and Jeff Galloway recognize that what you offer are just opinions."

He added that "the world has lots of room for opinions because they sometimes fit. You and Jeff are right for the masses of runners who just want to live a long life enjoying fitness and a recreational approach to road running."

Jeff Johnson said the same in slightly different words. He linked me to the decline in U.S. racing performances.

"I think it possible that you and other popularizers of our sport (Runner's World, etc.) are partly responsible for this decline in quality by 'dumbing down' the notion of what it takes to get to the top," he wrote. "For the last quarter-century the running publications have sought to expand their markets (a not-unreasonable goal) by preaching that running is easy and fun, that you can walk your way to a marathon finish, etc. All of this is true, but little or none of it aids in the advancement of performance."

I had written recently that "the U.S. leads the world where it really counts -- in distance-running participation." Jeff took issue.

He compared this to an educator saying, "The U.S. has more people than ever reading at the fourth-grade level, yet we produce fewer scientists. Is this evidence that the U.S. leads the world where it really counts?"

I let these two old friends have their say. Now it's my turn to respond.

The first response examines my "opinions" on training, and how they do or don't work for different types of runners. The second reply looks into the very different worlds in which the "dumb" and the gifted run.
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