Marathon Running and “Why I can’t race without being asked: Did you finish? How long was it?”

I want to take a moment and preface today’s post/thoughts/ramblings.  There are two very different sorts of events in ‘endurance sports’ like cycling and running.  There are ‘short’ races where there is a small(ish) field, where it’s an all out, balls to the wall event, and then there are longer events that take more time, more strategy, and more endurance, like marathons (in running) and centuries (in cycling) and ironman length triathlons (in that weird sport that I don’t want to do ever again).  This post is more about outlining the differences, and my own personal experiences in participating in the two different types of events or races.  There are things that you do with twenty-thousand people that are technically called a race, but more important is the ultimate goal of finishing and perhaps beating your best time, setting personal records.  Then there are things that you do with twenty people, where your chances of success (being defined as finishing in the top 3 spots) are increased invariably because of the size of the field being substantially less.  No offense meant to anyone, just trying to explain the difference (sorry if I come off as ‘Douchey’)

In the event you were living under a rock, or just anywhere outside the New York Metropolitan area, the ING New York City Marathon happened yesterday.  I want to state for the record that I admire marathoner’s, I really do, but I have a few gripes with what you do and how it somehow puts this image into everyone’s heads of what “Racing” is.

Bill Strickland, @TrueBS for those who don’t know, mentioned last week about the pacers in a marathon.  The people who run their marathon at X hours in order to keep things moving and on track.  He asked if it kept the real racing out of it, and I thought to myself — Is anyone really racing in a marathon?

A marathon is a great endurance event, and it sucks you dry, and you expel every ounce of your body into the pavement, but other than the top 10-15 in the world, who is actually racing?  Everyone is racing the clock, everyone who finishes will get their medal at the end, but are you holding off to out-sprint the person next to you for 10594th place?  A marathon, in essence, is a mass time-trial.  You’re racing the clock, where is the real “race?”  The only real race is sitting at the front, between a bunch of people from Kenya and maybe an American, sometimes a Jamaican.  These are the people who run for a living, that are getting the cash at the end of the day when they cross the line, making sure to mention their sponsors three or four times, and making their respective countries proud — but they’re not the one’s that most people think about when they consider marathoners. 

People think about the single mother of two who finds time to train every day and is running to try and finish under 4 hours.  They think about the guy, who on New Year’s Eve, said “this year is the year that I’m going to make a change in my life — Let me run the marathon!” and his goal is simply to finish. These people are great, but they destroy the term “racing” as far as my family is concerned.

With that — No one I know understands bike racing.  I go out to a race and I’m asked “so did you finish?”  “How far was it?”  “I don’t get it, how is done by time and not distance?”  The point of racing, bike racing, at least, is to finish before everyone else!  There’s 20 people around you, and you want to rip all of their legs off, one at a time.  It’s done by time because time is a constant — twenty miles might take longer than the sun is out, depending on how the pack feels.  The only part of the race that matters is the last 100 yards, where someone has hopefully left enough in his tank to out-sprint the guy next to him.  Marathons = Marathon Runners.  Bike Racing = Bike Racers.  Both great in their own regard, but both very, very different.  Not every bike race is a century, but it’s still an act of endurance. 

From here on out, folks, let’s try to equate the differences in racing.  Amatuer bike racing is akin to the 500m dash – short, all-out efforts, balls to the wall most of the time. Take that concept and measure it in time instead of distance.  “Hey we’re going to run around the track for 45 minutes and whoever finishes first wins.”  How far you went doesn’t matter — you just need to be the first to the line.   Sure, you’ll go further the longer the time, but at the end of the day, first wheel to cross the line wins. 

For the marathon runners — Keep running!  It’s awesome what you’re capable of doing.  I only got 18 miles the first time I attempted to run a marathon.  But the next time you get out there, keep your eye on one person and out-sprint them — they’ll probably shocked and apalled, but I’ll be stoked and cheering you on!!

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