Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Better Boston Bureau

The other day a well known runner guy in our little running community posted a Facebook status about the Boston Marathon.  He was complaining about how quickly the race filled (something like 7 hours I think) and that the qualifying times were too easy, which is why so many people were signing up.  He received several responses to that, both in agreement and not.  He then posted the times from years ago and what they are now.  I guess the point was to show what they should be...or that they were once harder...or the people who qualified with those harder times were more deserving of the honor to run the Boston Marathon...or maybe he hoped the race directors of the Boston Marathon would take note and change things... Whatever the purpose, it bothered me.

It was not only his status, but the responses to it that also bothered me.  One girl posted that the times were too easy and who wants to run a race if just anyone can get in. What?  Too easy for her maybe, but not for everyone who strives to qualify. And do they really believe it is only the qualification times that make Boston such an important goal for marathon runners? These were my thoughts as I continued reading the responses.  What in the world?  These people are Facebook friends* with others who run slower than they do or who have not yet been able to qualify.  How in the world is a status of that sort supposed to encourage runners? Maybe the point is not to encourage them, but to let them know they are not worthy and their marathon times are too slow, even for the current Boston qualifying times.  That's nice. 

The proof that some of their friends got the message appeared some minutes later.  Another running friend who recently qualified and got in to Boston posted that after reading all the talk of the race, she wasn't sure she should have registered. I commented on that one.  I had a lot of things I wanted to say...something about meaningless words of ignorant, thoughtless people, but instead I said she had earned it and should go.  It was her running journey, after all.

Good grief. What happened to good old fashioned kindness and thoughtfulness?  And what is it in our nature that makes us compare, put down, exclude, divide?  Is it so that we, in the end, come out on top?  I am better than you, and here's my proof! 

Should Boston qualifying times be more strict?  Maybe, maybe not.  For this little runner, they seem pretty tough. Are runners who qualified for the harder times better, more deserving runners of the honor of running this marathon?  Maybe, maybe not.  But what point does it serve to broadcast such a view, right in the face of hundreds of other runners who dream of such an achievement?  It isn't just me. I know these other runners.  I see their statuses filled with all caps and exclamation points on the day they qualify.  I see them at the finish lines, gasping for breath, feeling like death while knowing it was totally worth it.  I hear the plans, goals, training and hopes of one day making that qualifying time.

I know running races, like all sports, is competitive.  I know there are results and they are based on the comparison of my time against yours. I think that is fine and helps runners push harder than they might otherwise.  I think it is fun to race, to compete against those like me (age and gender), and I like it when I win my age group. But what I think is "Wow, Jane, look at you!  There is no way you would have ever imagined running like this a few years ago!  Wow!  You've got to tell people so they know they can do it too. So they can feel like this.  This feels awesome!  I wonder what else I can do..."  I'm not trying to pat myself on the back for being nice.  And I'll admit, I'm not always thinking nice thoughts.  There exists a person or two that I've beaten and enjoyed the fire out of it (quietly to myself...okay, and to Jason).  But what comes before the fall is pride, and it doesn't taste so good when you have to eat it.  I don't want my running experience to be about beating another person (just that curly headed girl named Jane).  I want it to be about my love of the sport and all the running adventures I write about in this blog.

I think it is impressive when someone can run really fast or really far or really far really fast.  It is more impressive, however, when someone can run like that and stay humble.  When kindness and thoughtfulness have a higher priority than spouting off about who the best runner is and that second place is just first loser (yes, they've posted that too). I think those who win are pretty cool, both locally and nationally.  Until they appear to think so too.  Until they need to take their running prowess out of the racing arena and use it to step on others who can't even fathom running like that.  Then I am unimpressed.  I am not inspired.  I don't want to be anything like that, no matter what their marathon time was. 

The things that are the most important - love, kindness, thoughtfulness, gentleness...you know where I'm going. I think these should take precedent over the constant comparison of me against you.  Can I run faster?  Do you make more money?  Are you smarter than me?  Am I better looking than you?  What is it that promotes our need to be better than others?  And how in the world can we really measure that anyway? Does it make you feel better to exclude me, the slower runner, from the Boston Marathon?  I won't ever get that feeling of turning the corner right before the Boston finish line (I've heard its awesome), or witness an entire city support a race, or hold that medal in my hand.  But hey, at least the qualifying times will honestly reflect which runners are good enough for Boston, and when registration opens, those runners will be able to get in.  If that is what matters the most, then so be it.  

* Facebook friend definition - someone you've come into contact with at some point in your life....maybe.


  1. i've never qualified for boston. i probably would like to try to one day, though. i like the fact that it has strict qualifying times -- though i would never call them easy, even if for me they were. i probably do agree, however, with many of those original facebook status-posters, that if the race is selling out so quickly they ought to make the qualifying times more difficult. better who gets to run be decided by who runs fastest than by whose internet is fastest (to register online).

    i do feel especially bad for all those who worked really hard in order to qualify -- and now won't get to run because so many people qualified.

    but i also would like for the running crowd to be more encouraging and not complain about races being too easy. i don't have facebook and have no idea who your "friends" are. but it sounds like you're wanting this group of runners to act like a group of christians...

  2. I am probably wanting that, Brett. And I know that can't always be the case. And I guess the actual qualifying times of Boston aren't the real issue. It is what we say, how we say it, and how it might make others feel. And I recognize not everyone values or considers that. This guy probably meant nothing by what he wrote.

    Our running community here is a tight knit group...not that we are all necessarily bosom buddies, but we all know each other and what other runners are doing, many are involved in programs like No Boundaries and Next Steps, which train new runners to run 5ks and 10ks. And the races around here (and there are a TON) have runners of all kinds and levels taking part.

    I think runners who are well known could be a tad more careful about what they say...but that is just me. I write this entry after over a year of reading FB statuses and comments and discussions, many times in disbelief that people actually say (write) those things. It can get pretty nasty, and so many times I just want to ask what the point is.

    I'm also not 100% sure the qualifying times are the problem. There are a ton of charities that don't require a time at all. Just a dollar amount. I'm not saying whether that is wrong or right - but it is a factor in the large numbers of people signing up for Boston.

  3. I am trying to qualify for Boston at the Rocket City Marathon in December and I have never worked so hard in my life to physically achieve something. The qualifying time for a 60 year old women is 4:30 and that is a very fast time for me. If it were any faster, I wouldn't even consider trying and I might not be able to run a 4:30 marathon, but I can at least say that I tried. I will be disappointed if I don't get to run Boston if I do qualify because it fills up quickly, but you are so right. It really doesn't matter because I will have reached my goal of qualifying for Boston. I am honored to be your mother and feel that I was successful in that most important role if you have the view that love and kindness and thoughtfulness and gentleness are more important than anything else, especially running some race. Discouraging others who are trying to get into good shape and be healthly and who are trying to do so by running is both cruel and arrogant. There is certainly something lacking in a person who would put others down by saying that their qualifying time was too easy and who would want to run a race with them. The older I get the more I realize how quickly life passes by and when I am gone I don't want to be remembered by my fast (or slow) marathons but by my kindness and love and thoughtfulness and gentleness to others. I want to encourage everyone I know to run and be healthy because it makes life so much easier and more fun. If they run a marathon, I don't care how fast they run it or if their time lowers the average marathon time. I am just thrilled and proud that they finished and realized a huge accomplishment and reached a lofty goal. This is a beautiful blog, Jane, and I am proud to be your mother. I love you!

  4. Wow, Jane, I totally agree. As a fairly new runner I would have never gotten to where I am now if it weren't for people like you (and it WAS mainly you). With your support, advice and encouragement I went from casually running a couple miles to running a 1/2 in under 2hrs all in about a year. Tell those people on FB THAT! I never thought I could do that and now I try to tell people what you always told me: If you can run 3 miles, you can run 4; if you can run 4 miles, you can run 5, etc. I have a new friend now that I am helping work up to 6 miles. So all that to say that I agree with you and I appreciate the kindness, thoughtfullness, and encouragement from you and others and I intend to pass it on!

  5. As a slow runner working as hard as I can to COMPLETE my first marathon this really hurts my feelings. Im not running to qualify for Boston, but I am training with someone who is...and I see the drive and determination every day to make the time mark and qualify for that race.

    All this running is very new to me and but the competitive part is not. Why put anyone down....including all those people who did qualify and somehow managed to get to their computers in the 7 hours before the race closed and filled their spot. Are you so arrogant that you couldn't be bothered to get online and register. Its not like it was 7 minutes and the server was down, come on!!!!!!!!

    If Boston wanted only the best of the best running in their race they would just select from the best times entered but this qualifying is all part of the game...part of the fun.

    Regardless of the time qualifications this is a huge accomplishment to achieve and I am disgusted that anyone would try to hurt another runner in the hopes (I guess) to make them self feel better. Shame on you Facebook Friend!

  6. Great post, Friend!!! One comment that I will add, that I don't think has yet been mentioned, is that I think the reason why more people are qualifying and thus causing the issue of the race filling so quickly, is that more people are running now than years ago!!! Which is a great problem to have! I'm not sure what the best solution is to ensuring that everyone who qualifies gets to run the race, but I certainly would not want to discourage anyone, no matter how fast or slow they are. It makes me happy to see so many new runners around here, and to have influenced a few myself.


  7. AMEN, Kristi! Good point!! I, too, am thrilled to see more people running and becoming healtier and happier!

  8. I agree, Kristi! And, thanks to you, too, for encouraging me! Hoping to run with you soon! I have worked back up to 6 and my foot is feeling great.

  9. Thanks Ma, for your encouragement, and Shannon for what you said! Emily, KEEP IT UP, and don't let anyone discourage you from doing what you love!

    Kristi that is such a good point and I totally agree. What a great problem to have!!!

  10. My comment to this post was so long, I decided to delete it and just answer in my own blog post for the day!! Thank you for talking about something that has been weighing HEAVY on my mind lately.

    Jane, you are a genuinely kind person. The branches of your life are heavy with the fruits of the Spirit. It was such a pleasure to meet you in person Saturday at the race.

    AND...Mrs. McGuire, you did a really good job!!


  11. I agree with Kristi. I think there are a lot more runners now. I know at least in our community there is. I am not an accomplished runner (I'm training for my first marathon), but I get asked on almost a daily basis about running. People wanting to know how to get started. I love to share and encourage them. I am extremely competitive, but I love to welcome new runners to my sport. Why can't everyone do that?! Great post, Jane.