I won’t lie. The inspiration for this post is something I read on Facebook today. A friend linked to a blog post that talked about a Pearl Izumi ad about the Marathon. This ad campaign is not new and neither is the controversy it invokes.
Pearl Izumi is a shoe/running gear company that periodically runs ads that seem, on face value, to imply that only elite runners should tackle a marathon. The ad goes like this:

The Marathon. Once a test of will, now a test of patience.

Underneath the ad continued to say the the marathon used to be an elite running competition and now there are people who “mosey” across the finish. The writers try to imagine how Phedippides (the Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the latest war news and then promptly died) would feel about people taking it slow. They go on to say that the marathon needs to be raced or we will lose the spirit of the Marathon.

Hmm. It’s easy to get offended by the ad. I know many runners who boycott Pearl Izumi in protest. Since I’ve never encountered any of their products, it’s hard to stage an effective boycott. If I boycotted Athleta, it might be a different story!
I think there are 2 ways to look at this ad.
#1 is that Pearl Izumi believes that slow runners shouldn’t be allowed to run a Marathon. Somehow the participation of slow runners diminishes the elite-ness of a Marathon and will ultimately destroy the very essence of the Marathon. This concept is not isolated to this ad. In fact I have been told that my Monday night running group (which I missed this week) was started in response to this very idea. The local runner store that sponsors our weekly runs wanted to make the point that anyone (in this case any woman, since it’s a women’s running group) can run races. As a slow runner who has completed a Marathon, I have voted against this concept. Most marathoners in the year 2012 are NOT elite runners. And it is our interest and our registration $$$ that helps keep the Marathon alive. Furthermore in a society where obesity is so prevalent, what better than to promote racing as a great lifestyle choice. I know that in the last 2 years I have gone from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one because of the challenge of finishing the Marathon. And I’ve shown my children the importance of fitness and achieving goals, etc.
#2 The more interesting question that the ad raises requires a different interpretation altogether. Maybe the ad isn’t saying that slow runners shouldn’t run a Marathon but that anyone who chooses to run a Marathon should be trying to do his/her best. Maybe the message isn’t against the 6 hour marathoner but against the marathoner who stops at every character meet and greet for a picture, regardless of the line. Or grabs a beer while running past Germany (at least that’s towards the end of the race so maybe not a good example). Does turning the Marathon into a carnival-like environment where 8 hours is as good as 4 hours diminish the accomplishment? A barely sub-6 hour Marathon was the very best I could do on that day. I had nothing left in the tank. With more training and better fluid management could I do better next time? Probably. But I raced my marathon to the best of my ability and gave it all I had. And perhaps that is all Pearl Izumi is asking us to do.
It does make me think again about my upcoming race schedule. Is it wrong to go Goofy if it means taking it a bit easy on the half so I juice enough for a full? I can’t honestly say that I’m sure. I think I would have modified time goals for both races. My best half marathon was just better than 12 min/miles. So maybe a training pace of 14 min/mile is an appropriate goal for the Donald. And then I can see what feels right for the Mickey. Not taking it easy but treating the weekend as a 39.3 mile race and making appropriate pacing adjustments.
I personally think I would have a difficult time doing a race without any regard for time. If I do the 5k on Marathon Weekend with my kids, I would consider that a fun run and not a race. It’s just not in me to completely ignore the clock. Treating a race like a training run would be ok with me, as long as it’s part of a greater training goal.
Somehow I think that satisfies the mandate to respect the Marathon….