OK folks, this one is quite simply a brief blog entry in response to a Facebook post I saw from an awesome charity runner and even awesomer friend, Ira.
Ira posted on his Facebook page this morning a brief description of an encounter he experienced with a fellow New York City runner, while in his gym. This runner decided to take a verbal shot at my friend, saying basically that “….charity runners should not be allowed to run the Boston Marathon unless they qualify. Period.” Based on his summary of the encounter, this comment was not meant to simply share his opinion with a fellow marathoner; instead, it was said with malice. Ira is like me: a runner with a stubborn streak when it comes to pushing through injuries to keep on going, but not one that runs from the front of the pack looking to set the World Record in the marathon each time he tows the line. Instead, he runs with an important purpose: to support the efforts of the New York Road Runners Team for Kids – a charity that helps fight childhood obesity through sponsoring free running programs in New York City schools. Their programs helped over 200,000 kids this year alone. Given the fact that schools have rolled back basic physical education classes while, at the same time, adding some vending machines to tons of school lunchrooms, this is an awesome effort to support. So Ira goes out there and runs with Team for Kids (“TFK”), raising awareness and donations to support the cause. I’ve run with him for a number of years now…and I couldn’t ask for a better teammate. I’m sure he handled the situation with class…and for that, he is a better man than I, as the tirade that would have ensued if I were the target would have made a merchant marine blush.
So there I was at my desk a few hours after reading and commenting on this Facebook post, and I was actually still stewing a bit. Why take a verbal jab at someone that a) didn’t do anything to warrant it, and b) is trying his best to become a better runner on a daily basis? Unleashing my inner Vulcan, I think of these types of verbal jabs to be a combination of nouns and verbs uttered to elicit an emotional response. One thing was left to pondor: why? Why attempt to elicit this response from Ira, a guy that is as humble and friendly as a man can be, but looks like he could play Center for the New York Giants? One side of the equation did not add up to the other. So I abandoned my inner Vulcan and channeled my inner Bronx….and determined that the dude was a schmuck.
I had a similar shot taken at me several years ago. While it did not specifically cover running / qualifying for Boston, it did cover the broader topic of “who should be permitted to run a marathon, and who should not”.
(I’ll pause for a moment for dramatic effect, as you go back and re-read that last sentence……. And yes – I can confirm – this was the exact topic of the short yet colorful discussion of which I was a participant. OK……moving on…..)
I was on the dreadmill one morning a few years ago, putting in a tempo run of about 5-6 miles, when another runner came up to the human hamster wheel next to me. He noticed that I was wearing a long sleeved technical shirt, and quickly decided to strike up a conversation with me as I kept running at about a 10 – 10:30 pace. Since he couldn’t see the front of my shirt, he asked which race it was from. I uttered “Chicago, 2012”. This response to his question, for some odd reason, forced him to begin the following dialogue:
HSIC (Head Schmuck In Charge): “Chicago? Nice. What did you clock in at?”
(…I guess he saw that my pace was 10-10:30 – much slower than a pace needed to qualify for Boston for a man in is 40’s, so he felt like he had to throw that question out there to a total stranger because….well….he’s the HSIC….)
Me: “I don’t know – 5 something I think…”
HSIC: “Seriously? God. Another piano mover.”
(…while I was still trying focus on my running, it took a long 2-3 seconds for the verbal jab to register. When it did, I understood that he was saying that I run like I am carrying a piano on my back. Now I don’t know this guy, and don’t recall ever seeing him prior to this in the gym – so this dude had no clue that he was poking a bear sans caffeine at 6am. That was his first mistake.)
Me: “Piano mover? As in I’m slow? OK. But you don’t know me….are you sure you want to ride this train? Because the last thing you want right now is my complete and undivided f*&king attention.”
(I stopped my dreadmill. The enemy has been engaged.)
HSIC: (he should have given this more thought, because he chose to swipe his Metrocard and board the J train to Smackdown Boulevard) “People like you should stick to halves – you should only be allowed to run a full when you are at a competitive speed. Not before.”
Me: “Hmmmmm. OK. And how fast should I need to run?”
HSIC: “You should be able to qualify for Boston. There are times based on your age…”
Me: “…I know the BQ (Boston Qualifying) standards. Thanks. So what should qualifying times for New York be then? Because those are the BAA standards – but I guess each race could set their own, right? So what should qualifying times for New York be?”
(The best way to argue with a schmuck is to keep asking for details and enjoy the verbal 3 car pile-up)
HSIC: “…I don’t know – there should just be a standard.”
Me: “OK – so there should just be a standard. And you have no idea what it really should be – because every course has its own level of difficulty – NYC is different than LA, which is different than Boston, which is different from some of the hillier courses like Big Sur. But I see you have this all thought out.”
HSIC: “Hey, don’t hate on me – you’re the one that runs like a duck.”
Me: “That was a nice comeback. And how many marathons have you done?”
HSIC: “I’ve done lots of halves…”
Me: “Excellent. That’s cool. But then why are you bashing me? I’ve done nothing to you – and you have no full marathon experience to even make these statements. So your opinion is not well thought out. Quick history lesson: who was the first person to run a marathon?”
HSIC: “It was a Greek guy – I know that.”
Me: “Excellent. A Greek guy. Bingo. He ran 25 miles and dropped dead at the feet of the king after delivering news of a Greek military victory.”
HSIC: “Duh – everybody knows that.”
Me: “Excellent comeback. Well done. Now focus please: let’s base all marathon qualifying standards on his finishing time. Sound good? So go home, crack open the old internet, and let me know what his finishing time was and his corresponding pace per mile, and we’ll go from there. I’m sure you’ll be able to find his chip time on http://www.marathonguide.com. ….and dude, before you run your mouth, know your audience.”
HSIC decided to use the rowing machine. I finished my run. And thus endeth the sermon.
I share that story because it’s a little funny, and also a little sad. There are those in the running community that believe that the marathon should only be run by those whom the Clan of the Damn Cave Bear think are “worthy”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with running to simply see how fast you can go for how long. That’s awesome. To the elite runners in the field, I say kuddos. I wish I ran as fast. I wish I could qualify for Boston right now. But there are those of us in the running community that run for other, personal, deep reasons. We may not be as fast as you – and we admire your speed without scornful the retorts thrown out in gyms – but we run with the same passion and effort. We cover the same mileage as the speed demons – it just takes us a bit longer, that’s all. Charity runners in the New York City Marathon alone raise on average more than $20 million in donations for great charitable causes. And that’s just one race – so think about the impact that charity runners have globally each year, and then think about what percentage of them are elite runners that qualify for Boston. A significant percentage of charity runners are NOT the elite speed demons – they are ordinary people trying to make a difference internally as well as externally.
It doesn’t matter what your pace is. Just set a goal, work as hard as you can to achieve it, enjoy the journey that you experience preparing for race day, and the race itself is simply a victory lap….and as anyone that watches auto racing knows, the victory lap allows the driver to take in the general splendor of the achievement. We all get a chance at a victory lap – just don’t hate on those who take it slower than you do.