This question just keeps popping up over and over again.  It seems to be a very popular topic of discussion in social media and media in general.  New and creative “fun run” style races such as The Color Run are everywhere at the same time that race series that sell fun and entertainment as part of their appeal (think runDisney) are selling out months in advance.  As someone who spends time with the runDisney internet community, it’s clear that many runners look at runDisney events as being about the fun with the finish time being secondary or even unimportant.  This mentality that a half marathon (or even a full marathon) should be a fun event with friends where the running costumes, photo opportunities, and the race “experience” are far more important than actually racing has led so-called running purists to complain that slow runners are a problem.

In my mind anyone getting off the couch and starting an endurance running event has already won something.  It’s hard to believe that less than 4 years ago I couldn’t even run a mile and swore that finishing a full marathon wasn’t even a bucket-list item for me.  Especially hard to believe since I’m about to take the start line of my 3rd full marathon in less than 5 weeks with my 4th full marathon about 2 months later.  Running has enhanced my life in ways I never could have imagined. During my recent efforts at fundraising for Team for Kids as part of my NYC Marathon campaign, some of my most generous donors were people I know through running, several of whom have never met me in person.  And while running through my local neighborhood a few days a week for fitness would have been enjoyable, it is through the shared race experience that I have truly made friends for life.  (One friend remembered that one year ago I helped her cross her first finish line in the Tower of Terror 10 Miler at Disney where the brutal heat and humidity caused many DNFs.)

I read a great post which outlined some solutions for “running purists” who object to slow runners and wanted to share the link as I think this is well-written and interesting:

But I also wanted to share my own thoughts.

Un-timed fun run type events are the easiest to address.  I think these can be a great way to introduce new runners or children to running.  My children did one of the Disney 5k races and it was a great experience.  It showed them what it’s like to run a race that isn’t just a short distance on a track and made the experience fun and memorable.  They talk about wanting to do another 5k.  The Bronx Zoo does a family 5k which allows walking and strollers and is about the fun.  And The Color Run does the same basic idea with a different theme.  These are not really aimed at runners who are looking to PR but I think they allow families to introduce children to the 5k distance is a fun and entertaining way.  Purists need not sign up!

Next up are the race series where the goal is fun and entertainment more than speed.  Think runDisney or Rock n Roll series.  Or the Diva Half Marathon I’m running next weekend.  These races advertise fancy medals, generous time limits (16 min/mile is pretty standard), on-course entertainment, etc.  The runDisney courses are often super crowded making PRs difficult at times.  Many runners who participate in these events choose to dress up in a running costume and enjoy the experience regardless of their finish time. The races attract many first-time runners (myself included) and some of those newbies will be woefully unprepared to tackle the distance. I confess that I have mixed feelings about this one.  I, personally, have a hard time training for a races and then not actually racing it.  Stopping every few miles to wait in line for photo-ops during a race just doesn’t appeal to me.  Yes, I often run the Disney races with a camera around my wrist but I tend to just snap quick photos as I go by rather than actually stopping my races for a photo.  My bigger issue is a safety one.  Disney and Rock n Roll are both known for handing out medals even if you get swept.  This means that a larger number of participants show up to the starting line unprepared to go the distance.  I always worry, especially in events where the temperatures are higher than expected, that something bad might happen.  And this is the one area where the purists may have a point.  If you’re going to show up to the starting line of an endurance event, it should be your responsibility to be trained enough to go the distance.  It’s perfectly fine if you’ve trained to go 13.1 miles in 3 hours 30 minutes. But if your longest run ever was only 5 miles, maybe you shouldn’t be showing up.  I totally get that life can happen between the date that you sign up and the date of the race.  But safety first! And I will confess that I can understand that a Purist would have an issue with participating in runDisney-type events.  So don’t.

The third situation would include races like the upcoming NYC Marathon or even my local half marathon that takes place every October on the Bronx River Parkway with about 700 runners.  These a “traditional” races.  There are water stops and port-a-potties and maybe some crowd support (yes for NYC and no for my local race) but the race is ultimately about the distance.  It’s not about a fancy medal or exciting entertainment or costumes.  And while the time limit for the NYC Marathon is about 6.5 hours and for my local half marathon is 3.5 hours like runDisney, the level of running is much different.  At runDisney I’m a mid-packer at worst and about 1/3 of the way back from the front at fast.  In my local half marathon the first year I ran I was in the bottom 20 finishers.  With a 2:42-ish finish time.  Last year I was just under 2:30 and that still put me pretty far back. A slightly slower finish time at the Princess Half Marathon put me 1/5 of the way from the front (seriously I was about 4600 out of 21,0000.  In any non-Disney (or non-entertainment oriented) race, I’m clearly in the back of the pack.

So should I be allowed to run the NYC Marathon? Maybe not to the purists.  One hears murmurings of complaints that the charity runners at the Boston Marathon are taking up precious spots that could otherwise qualify by time.  Really? Having just raised almost $3000 in charity in order to get a spot in the NYC Marathon, I can honestly say that I would have rather spent the extra time running.  I hated asking people to donate money, even to a good cause.  And my race entry fee was the same as everyone else’s.  Plus, I gave money to charity myself – some as part of the registration process and some as charitable giving.  Perhaps equally importantly I have spent months pouring my heart and soul into training.  My 25 mile training run took almost 6 hours.  I wish I were fast enough for it to take half that time.  Even if my monthly mileage is lower than some people, my time spent training is probably similar since it takes me so much longer to go the same distance.  And there is no doubt that I am already adequately trained to cross the finish line.  Not in 3 hours or even 4 hours but well-within the time limit and in a safe and enjoyable manner.  And please don’t tell me I’m not trying to run fast.  I was up at 4:30am on Sunday morning so I could do 12 x 1 mile repeats at 30 seconds faster than race pace (and still finish in time for my eldest child to get to Hebrew School).  It was a tough workout and took a lot of sweat and effort.

So what’s my bottom line? 

One of my favorite definitions of running is that it is a “free-form activity” and there is no “right” way to run.  I think running and endurance racing are big enough and flexible enough to accommodate runners of all speeds and abilities, as long as the participants are willing to put in enough training to be prepared for the starting line.  I think there is a place for “serious” racing where speed is valued and PRs are made to be broken – regardless what time you’re trying to break.  But I also think that there is plenty of space for events aimed at fun and open to all runners whether recently off the couch or Boston qualifying.

One of my favorites things about the running community is how much love and support I’ve found there.  Maybe it’s all the extra endorphins floating around or maybe running just attracts special people.  I would hate to deny anyone the opportunity to join this not-so-exclusive club of runners.  So please join us, regardless of how fast you can go!