I have run quite a few marathons in my relatively short running career. It is my favourite distance because it is almost the perfect challenge, long enough to really stress your body but still short enough that you can try to run fast.
If there is one thing that running more than 25 marathons has taught me it is respect. Respect for the distance, respect for the training, respect for the event, respect for the volunteers, the race directors, and every other runner who takes it seriously.
I love the marathon, especially the big city marathons, for all the reasons Helen Munro describes in her excellent blog post here
I don’t care how long it takes you, so long as you take it seriously, do it right, and try hard.
At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Man, the thing that gets my goat, yanks my chain or whatever is your expression of choice, is people who disrespect the race.
That disrespect manifests itself in various ways. Here is my top 5
1. I am too busy, clever, fit, good, famous to train. Frankly bollocks. If you don’t want to do the race don’t do it, but don’t skimp on training, turn up on race day then tell us how hard it is when the race takes you 90 minutes longer than it should.
2. I don’t need a training programme. Yes you do. You might get away with it once but you wont perform to your best and ultimately you will get hurt. Thats why people write programmes and thats why the very best runners in the world follow programmes.
3. I Can’t Run Without Headphones. I have news for you, your legs work independently of your ears. And while we are at it, it says in the rules “no headphones” so it is non-negotiable whether you like it or not. And if its not too much trouble you might actually want to listen to those marshalls and supporters who got out of their beds early to stand in the cold and cheer you on.
4. I am going to get as near to the front as I can at the start. Yes, thank you very much it is great fun to set off at the start of a race only to come grinding to a halt after 100m when you run up the back of someone running half your pace who should be in another corral. This also applies to the “I am running/walking for charity so I am going to link arms with my friends and spread out across the course so no-one can get past” crew as well.
5. My race is so popular I am going to charge you a small fortune to enter and if you want to come from overseas I am going to charge you even more! Overseas runners make a big contribution to the local economy and already pay more for flights, accommodation, merchandise so dont screw them for higher entry fees. It is discriminatory. NYRR you know who you are.
So why am I thinking about Respect? Initial prompt is a friend Margaret who is aiming to do her first marathon in Barcelona later in the year. She wrote the most wondeful thing on Facebook earlier in the week. She said “If Hal Higdon says it, I run it”.
A oouple of other reasons for thinking about Respect. First is that I have managed to give myself a busy first half of the year. The main focus of the year is the West Highland Way Race and as a first-timer the race demands my absolute respect. However, I am also lined up to do the Boston marathon and given that you have to qualify for the race it is only appropriate that I do all of the necessary work so that I run the race at my very best, to do any less would be disrespectful both to the event and the other Boston hopefuls who didnt get a place. Devising a training programme which respects both events has proved to be an interesting challenge. I am trying to balance some back to back long weekend runs, with at least one of my weekend runs done at marathon training pace and my midweek runs focussing on speed and strength.
The second reason for the respect theme is Lance. I am not going to go into the whole sorry saga, I shall leave that to those who follow cycling. In distance running we have our own share of stories whether Wanjiru or Goumri and many others. The thing which got me thinking though, is where do we cross the line between enhancing performance through technology and disrespecting the event by cheating. Many years ago when I rowed to a reasonable level I remember distinctly taking an extra high dose of painkillers before the start of a race. It didnt occur to me that I might have been cheating. I had a foul cold, was running a fever and all I wanted to do was remove the symptoms to allow me to compete at my normal level. Is it cheating? As a schoolboy I used to put extra sugar on my cornflakes and then eat a mars bar for my breakfast before playing rugby because I believed it gave me a competitive advantage. Was it cheating? I certainly didnt think so at the time. Last year running the Highland Fling race, I took some Ibuprofen after 26 miles because I had really sore feet. The pain went away and I ran a strong second half to the race. Should I have struggled on with my sore feet and not taken the painkillers? In my bid to enhance my performance should I forgoe compression clothing, electrolyte drinks and carbohydrate gels. Does listening to motivational music on an ipod give an unfair advantage? What about using GPS to judge pace? Where is the line?
I certainly don’t want to cheat, but I do want to do the best I can. I am never going to be in contention to win anything so does it matter? To try my best is respectful. To get an unfair advantage is disrespectful. Is cheating the act or the intention? Is it the spirit of the law or the letter of the law which counts? In using technology, gadgets and supplements to perform as well as I can am I showing respect or disrespect? Hard stuff.