Public Disservice Journalism

Today’s New York Times carries a front-page story by Julia Macur that raises the question about whether slow runners should be allowed to participate in marathons, whether their “participation” diminishes the accomplishment. It’s an entirely absurd argument, and a form of journalism that does a public disservice, since it might tend to discourage slower runners from taking up the sport. We’re suffering a national obesity epidemic, and the last thing we need to do is to start shaming the still very few—at any pace—who set out to build the endurance and strength to cover 26.2 miles.

If it were a real raging debate, and I contend it is not, based on my experience, it would be newsworthy. But I just spent a weekend with running journalists from around the country and, while there was one short conversation about the effect of charity runners crowding out mid-pace runners from some of the top marathons, no one suggested that slow runners get the boot. Nor have I ever heard the argument in my three years of serious running and, trust me, runners talk. And talk. No doubt every race has to have a cutoff time—in Chicago it’s six-and-a-half hours—but to suggest that a greater degree of  elitism is needed with marathons  not only runs contrary to the extremely supportive spirit that pervades the sport of running, but where would the line be drawn? I’m sure every critic would suggest the cutoff just a bit after their expected finish.

Rather than positing this as a “slow” versus “fast” story (ironically, one of her naysaying “fast” sources recently recorded the middling time, albeit a bit better than mine, of just under four hours, six minutes), the meat of her discussion was the more realistic dilemma that races have in setting a final cutoff time, if at all, where issues of cost, traffic control and safety come up against the spirit of participation.

But that’s not as sexy as the fast kids making fun of the slow kids. Even if they don’t.

Leave a Reply