DUMBING DOWN, SLOWING DOWN

Declaration of Independence     In a recent keynote address at the Andrus Center for Public Policy in Boise, Idaho, retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor lamented what she called America’s ‘alarming degree of public ignorance’.

“Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence,” she said, “and it’s right there in the name!”

Where former Justice O’Connor sees a dumbing down of America’s educational standards – the country reached its highest percentage of high school graduates in 1969 at 77% — one can also see a corresponding slowing down in America’s basic drive to compete.  First, no dodge ball (if you can believe that!), then “everyone’s a winner”, not keeping score in some youth soccer leagues, and now a sudden reduction in the support of elite foot racing competition from a company that was originally named Elite Racing and still carries the now rather ironic moniker, Competitor Group.  And yet, at least for the time being, the owners of the Rock `n` Roll series of marathons and half marathons is maintaining the elite component at its European-based events.  I suggest this is emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness in general, and should be of concern to us all.

And so, just as Justice O’Connor reflects on what can be done about the dumbing-down of America, we wonder what can be done about the slowing down of America, and the role top echelon runners might play in that turnaround. 

Even as we recall the now famous 1983 Boston Marathon where nearly 90 men broke 2:20:00, and the average finishing time of the 5415 male starters was 3:02:41, and the average time of the 655 female starters was 3:20;57, we are at present well into registration for the 2014 Patriot’s Day race.  Applicants anxiously await confirmation of their entry for what should be one of the most emotional marathons ever staged next April.

Marla on pace at 21 miles at Cliff Bar Mountain 2 Ocean Marathon

Marla on pace at 21 miles at Cliff Bar Mountain 2 Beach Marathon

One such proud qualifier is San Diego’s Marla Scott Nelson, one of the runners my wife Toya coaches.  Marla qualified for Boston this past May at the Cliff Bar Mountain 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, California, a boutique event that holds the charms of its nearby wine country scenery.

Until joining Toya at the end of December 2011, Marla had four years of running experience, with PRs of 1:57 for the half marathon and 4:18 for the full 26.2 miles.  Her goal was to go sub-4:00 and then to qualify for Boston.  But even now that she has accomplished that goal (3:46:05) and received her confirmation for next Patriot’s Day in Boston, there is little to no connection with the top of the sport.

“I wouldn’t even know if there were elite runners at the Rock `n` Roll Marathon,” she said of the race where she ran her old PR 4:18.  “But when people hear you are a marathon runner, they always ask, ‘have you run Boston?’  So Boston is a benchmark.”

Boston’s century-plus legacy of excellence makes it unique. But with the modern Rock `n` Roll Series, and much of the sport today, while encouraging full participation, it has lost interest in identifying and rewarding excellence. And, as mentioned, most every kid’s run these days falls into the “everyone is a winner” format where just doing is good enough, and being ordinary is celebrated as opposed to being the jumping off point for improvement — because the drive to improve is what will fuel the quality of the rest of one’s life.

Pointing out, as CGI CEO Scott Dickey does, “that the Competitor Group and Elite Racing are profoundly different brands”, it is at least interesting to see how simply hosting runners has become the goal of running in America rather than challenging participants to improve. And need it be said  that it was the fire of competition that forged America into the envy of the world?

Long time sports agent Brendan Reilly, president of Boulder Wave, attended the Rock `n` Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach this Labor Day weekend.

“I signed up the day before, did a five minute jog before the gun went off,” he recalls. “I ran a shade under 7:15/mile, and somehow ended up 142nd of 15,000+ “runners.” As we know, there is nothing remotely impressive about 7:15 miles, and in the old New England days, that pace would maybe get you into the top quarter of finishers.

“I think we’ve had too many years of the John Bingham (Waddle On, Penguins) philosophy.  John is a nice guy, a very entertaining and eloquent speaker, but there seems to be little in the sport these days to carry the runners that John has gotten off the couch to the next level of aiming to run faster and treat our events like RACES. And without that mentality, it is no wonder so few participants really care or even understand that somebody just ran 4:45 or 5:20 pace to win their race.”

MAINTAINING CONTACT

Bekele Holds off Farah at Great North Run

Bekele Holds off Farah at Great North Run

In the world of racing there are two kinds of contact, physical and psychological.  In the latter you can let somebody pull away from you – as England’s Mo Farah did with Ethiopia’s Kenenise Bekele this past weekend at the Bupa Great North Run in Newcastle, England — and still feel you have it within you to close that gap.  In the end, Mo did indeed close fast, but came up one agonizing second short at the finish. However, with the on-going domination of East African runners over the last generation, the psychological contact that runners in the back of the pack used to have with the leaders has been severed completely.

Today, unless you are fortunate enough to have a Mo Farah emigrate to your shores and end up a world-beater — in America we have Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman — there is no connection from front to back.  That loss of connection is one reason why Competitor Group made what it thought was a very pragmatic decision to cut the umbilical cord to elites.

“It has to do with not knowing how or trying to use pro athletes for anything besides the occasional sponsor dinner or limited media appearance,” said Brendan Reilly.  “It struck me in Moscow (at the World Track & Field Championships, where Reilly’s athlete Edna Kiplagat of Kenya successfully defended her marathon gold medal from 2011) that one thing we really lack is anything like the “fan zones” that the NBA or NFL create for their fans…even in Moscow, the IAAF had absolutely nothing in place that would allow fans to meet medalists or athletes from their own countries. 99% of event organizers seem to permanently shelter top athletes from the fans.”

All that can be hoped is that the lament of former Justice O’Connor in terms of education and the pull-out from elite competition by Competitor Group will awaken the slumbering giant of concern that still rests uneasily on the sidelines. To hope that the stakeholders of America and running in America see that there needs to be a fundamental change in the emphasis, organization and presentation of elite racing going forward, or they risk seeing what is now a crack in the edifice of their sport leading to an eviction notice with the wrecking ball next to begin swinging.

END

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89 comments on “DUMBING DOWN, SLOWING DOWN

  1. Toni, you should know that yesterday GBTC beat BAA for third place in the USATF-NE GP 10 km to break a team time tie. Both teams posted the same cumulative time, but the rule is that the team that wins the most one-for-one matches wins. In the closest one, our GBTC third guy beat the BAA third guy by one second. All the runners were quite thrilled by the closeness of the competition. Seconds matter to these guys who are all at work this Monday. Third team prize was $200 that will help expenses to club national XC in Oregon. 4th was zero. We have to make competition count at all levels….otherwise it is no fun at all.
    Tom

  2. Mike Halko says:

    Very well stated Toni. Nordic Ski Racing suffers the same fate as running in the US. In Europe the XC skiers are super stars in the US they are…..”who”. How do we get a societal or cultural shift back to excellence with the appropriate compensation for effort expended? An agreement with industry and the athletes coupled with a savey PR Program. Sad to see the media cover NASCAR & Golf so lopsided to our sport. Elite Racing tried to be the White Knight but no one else came to the Round Table. Is there King among us? Rather a Fellowship of athletes and industry leaders willing to inspire? Small onclaves in MI, CO, CA, and NM struggle to churn out our next set of champions with great sacrifice. Will change come? Or are we left waiting for the “Lady of the Lake”to bring forth change? Was the early 1980s an emerging Camelot for runner or merely a Crusade still searching for the Grail of Professionalism with all it’s attributes, monetary reward and notarity? Still a mystery. You are a wise Bard keep the quill wet.

  3. Jack Wickens says:

    Spot on Toni. “Connecting the front to the back” (and visa-versa) is the challenge and the opportunity. Systematically and relentlessly making role model athletes visible and accessible to kids and adults is an quest worth embracing. Interest in “the front” generally requires the spark of a personal experience. Grass roots efforts like Classroom Champions and USA Track & Field Foundation’s Run With US! program are helpful in this regard. Enlightened major race organizations (e.g. NYRR) also get this done. As you know new “up close and personal” web profiles on each top athlete, which invite intimate connections, is in the works also. Baby steps….

  4. I have great respect for Toni and Brendan. I would suggest, however, that this is a bit like saying that the reason the Chicago Symphony isn’t what it once was is because of so many people playing in community orchestras.

    I stood at the finish line of the RnR Philly race yesterday until everyone had finished. Everyone’s effort was celebrated. I invite ANY winner of ANY race to join me instead of rushing back to their hotel after the awards ceremony. I guarantee that the first “elite” to show even a LITTLE interest in the rest of the pack will become a hero overnight.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Great reply, John, and I agree wholeheartedly with that position. It isn’t either/or, it’s both in combination. That’s why I think there should be teams of elites and participants so that both have a stake in the other’s outcome. You have been a positive force in the game, we just need the top managers to instruct their clients they need to do more to help generate interest. At the same time, the events need to create the structure that brings the two ends together in the middle. Glad to have your voice in the conversation.

      • Ilsa Paulson says:

        As an elite runner myself, I couldn’t agree more with you, John. Every effort put forth as long as it is one’s best should be celebrated. The problem is the lack of appreciation by elite runners of the hard work and dedication on the part of “sub elite” runners and their race result. As elite runners, we need to be better ambassadors to our sport, and stop with the selfish, elitist, “country club” attitude. Coming back from two herniated disks in my back, I have found myself running slower than I am accustomed to in my early races, and this has actually been an eye-opening, humbling experience. It has served a noble and necessary purpose in teaching me to reassess and come to a greater appreciation of what REALLY matters in running, as well as in life: life gives us challenges, and what matters is how well we embrace and learn from them and doing our very best effort for the given day considering the circumstances. God made us all beautifully with unique and diverse talents. We as elite athletes need to get out of our self-centered little worlds, and take a more active role in reaching out to our fellow, slower runners, like cheering them on at the finish line after completing our race, instead of retreating to the comfy, although isolated confines of the elite athlete tent. This might draw more every day runners to events such as Rock n Roll traces, and give race directors a reason rethink their funding schemes

      • Ilsa Paulson says:

        As elite athletes, we need to take the initiative ourselves, we should not need our managers or coaches prodding us to do the right thing, or to be unselfish. It is time WE step up to the challenge and take a more active role in reaching out and being good will ambassadors for our sport if we really want it to thrive.

    • Mike Lundgren says:

      What is entirely forgotten is that an elite runner that has won has often run to exhaustion, and then hustled off for interviews. Expecting him to stand at the finish, perhaps getting chilled, perhaps dealing with cramps, and often quite hungry and thirsty, is not really an answer.

      So what if you stood at the finish line, most people would not know you from a volunteer, and if you did run the race, how much longer was it before all the finishers were in. Far less time than the person that ran 59 minutes and change.

      But cheering on our fellow runners is but a small part of it all. Having the runners meet and greet each other before race day or at the race awards party is part of what is lacking, not to mention our lacking in media attention.

      • Nearly every Ironman that I’ve either attended or covered in the last four years, the male and female overall winners come back to the finish line in the last hour of the event. And finish line announcer Mike Reilly makes sure that everyone within the sound of his voice is aware of it. At the 2012 edition of Ironman Texas in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, Chrissie Wellington, one of the most recognizable triathletes of all-time, was in the finish line area for anywhere from four to five hours putting the medals around finisher’s necks. Granted, she wasn’t competing at the event, but for her to spend that kind of time created memories that soon will not be forgotten.

    • Hiro T says:

      I agree that the winner coming back to the finish line would do wonders for connecting the elites with the rest of us. Ultra marathon legend Scott Jurek was known to stay at the finish line or come back to cheer everyone on, and that was after running 50-100+ miles. And with the ultra marathon races, the gap between the winner and last place could be half a day.

      Another example of connecting the amateurs with the elites (that I’m sure Toni remembers) is the Hapalua Half Marathon in Honolulu, HI. Select groups of amateurs were given head starts (based on recent performance) against a group of elite Kenyan marathoners (including Patrick Makau in the 2013 race) who would attempt to chase them down while starting with the rest of the runners. Prize money went to whoever crossed the finish line first, whether amateur or pro. The format generated connection not only between the amateurs being chased and the elites but also with the masses that ran the race and the spectators – it was an exciting format and gave a reference point for everyone as to how fast these elites really are and how tough some of the familiar sub-elites from the local scene could be (in both the 2012 and 2013 editions, the amateurs took home the cake). The Kenyan runners also participated in a group run the day before the race in which any runner could join. How often does one get to do anything with someone who is THE best in the world at that activity? It’s kinda like getting to play a pick up game with Michael Jordan (ok maybe more like HORSE but still)

      What the elites are capable of doing out on the course leaves many of us in awe, but most of the time it doesn’t result in a memorable experience. I think by getting a little creative CG and other groups can make a great experience for all levels of runners and make a buck doing so as well.

    • Andrew says:

      Here is your hero:

      http://www.flotrack.org/speaker/78-Ryan-Hall/video/654848-Ryan-Hall-Post-London-Marathon

      Start watching at 15:20 (or watch the whole thing, it is a good interview). Hear all the adulation? I don’t either.

      If it were as easy to get people interested in pro running as you seem to think it is, I would personally give a couple near elites $1000 each to hang out at the finish line after their race. Unfortunately, most “runners” would probably not notice, not care, or wonder why the race has so many course marshals. The problem is not the amount of participation – an average community orchestra player probably still loves listening to the Chicago Symphony, but now it seems that the average “runner” would change the channel if the the Chicago Marathon was on – the problem is the loss of a drive to improve.

    • Steve Hobson says:

      While I agree elite need to engage the sport better, John’s open distaste and snark for elite runners is not good for the sport nor has his ignorance about elites. He demands respect from them while not giving any.

      He openly mocks those whose actually try to get better and run faster. Yes, it’s takes “courage to start”, it also takes courage to devote yourself 100% to a task and go for a goal. (Of course John doesn’t make any $$ for that aspect of running).

      While elements of John’s message has undeniably been positive for the sport, It is a shame he has to also include a nasty side. Toni is spot on…why does it have to be either or?

      p.s. The tired orchestra analogy (yes he drags it out a lot) makes little sense. People in community orchestras are still trying to improve and likely hold the professional musicians in high regard. John has often said that “Orpah is the greatest marathoner of the 20th century”..Does that make Bill Clinton the greatest saxophonist using this logic? Here’s another analogy…Soccer in the US has grown in popularity as the play gets better on every level.

    • John, I agree whole heartedly. As a middle of the packer for 30 years, I don’t think that my efforts are mediocre, slower than elite but I strive for personal excellence at each event. I have found that the elite athletes at many triathlon events are very supportive of those of us that are less gifted. I have had top 5 finishers cheer me on as they returned on an out and back run course (obviously I was headed out and they were headed back) and have had podium finishers cheer for me as I cross the finish line, sometimes long, long after they have had their post race rub down and shower.

    • PattiC says:

      I have great respect for all & have followed the running world gurus & elites for 5+ years. I have lost over 90lbs and feel that I earned my -8:38 50-54 AG spot in Boston this year, after narrowly missing the bombs. No, I will never run a 3:20 Marathon, but work hard to slowly & surely lower my race times.
      In 2009 I began my journey with John Bingham & admittedly my 1st marathon was the Seattle R&R. I am so thankful for both. Since then I have hungrily poured over books, videos, websites & followed elites and champions with great interest. Competitor’s announcement is highly disappointing.
      It is frustrating to see many of my contemporaries just there to look good for the pictures & take home a medal to post on facebook, or, are ‘bored’ with just racing & need to add color or mud to their destination races.
      However, it is equally as disappointing & frustrating to me that some (not all) ‘elites’ are unapproachable and borderline rude. John took the time to talk to me, as has Meb Keflezighi. That meant A LOT. It doesn’t take a lot of time to smile, be kind, say thank you or add a word of encouragement – no matter how fast you are. I would suspect that unfortunately, that attitude is a segment of the ‘dumbing down of America’ that is universal.

    • Jill says:

      This was professional runner David Torrence’s reply to your post. I feel like he identifies the true problem.

      Dear Letsrun,

      My name is David Torrence. I am a Professional Track Athlete and Road Racer. I’ve run in front of packed sold-out stadiums, and in front of empty bleachers. I’ve run in Road races with 10k participants, and some with 10 total.

      Upon reading the recent discussion on Competitor/RnR events, the value of elites, popularity of the sport, etc…something has struck a chord with me. Specifically with what John Bingham said in the comments section of Toni Reavis’ blog “Dumbing Down, Slowing Down”

      Bingham wrote, “I invite ANY winner of ANY race to join me (cheering on finishers) instead of rushing back to their hotel after the awards ceremony. I guarantee that the first ‘elite’ to show even a LITTLE interest in the rest of the pack will become a hero overnight.” (bold my emphasis)

      Well John, that comment… how can I put this politely… really frustrated me.

      Show even a little interest in the rest of the pack? Guarantee overnight fame?

      I have signed autographs in Zagreb, Croatia, t-shirts/hats/shoes in Eagle Rock, CA. In Falmouth, the day after racing the track mile, I voluntarily chose to jog the road 12km with the “rest of the pack” to interact and chat and cheer people on. I have driven myself at 4am to Fresno and sat for hours giving out and signing hundreds of autograph cards with personal messages to HS runners at the CA XC state meet. I have co-created my OWN track club to reach out to the community with greater numbers and unity. I have put on my OWN race (BAXC) where we paired up the average casual runners with the elites and had a scored meet. I recently went to Compton to kick off a weekly run event that the Mayor created for her community that lacks a strong running culture, and jogged 2miles with the youth of the city. I signed autographs and interacted with fans so quickly after my race in Stockholm, for so long, and standing so still (due to the stairs) that my body was unable to clear the lactic acid like it normally does, and I vomited during my cool down for the first time in my entire running career.

      Am I an international phenomenon? Am I a national hero? Do people even recognize me on the trails in my own CITY where I train and live 6months out of the year? No, no, and no.

      The blaming of the elites HAS to stop.

      Are there some who don’t give back and selfishly head back to the hotel room? Yes. But in my experience, they are far and few between.

      The vast majority are NOT jerks. They are people just like you. And are honestly some of the nicest/humblest people I’ve ever met. I feel honored to be a part of the professional running community.

      But what more do you want us to do? What more CAN we do? Why aren’t NBA, NFL, MLB, Tennis, NASCAR, professionals held to this same standard of fan interaction?

      Who are the ones that are creating this disconnect between the Elites and the casual runners?

      I’ll tell you what is to blame: Television.

      TV has done the absolute WORST job of promoting our sport and our elite athletes, and to put it simply: make us look cool. Every race is scripted to the point that the announcers only really know the top 5 seeds (2-3 in track), and if a lesser known athlete is leading and/or wins…he/she is often ignored completely, or mistaken to be one of the athletes that is on their sheet of paper. Track and Road Races are broadcasted the EXACT same way they have been broadcasted for DECADES. There has been very little innovation, very little creativity, very little drive to try and make it more entertaining on the screen.

      And for those who say “well, running just doesn’t lend itself to entertainment on the big screen”. That is just a lazy response. Running is amazingly exciting, IF YOU KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. If you are educated enough to know the splits, the moves, the surges, the falls, etc. Every NASCAR race has almost half the screen filled with stats of speed, position, name, etc. Without it, it’s just cars going in circles. Which is exactly how running is broadcast.

      EDUCATE the public. Create BETTER TV broadcasts, and don’t just SETTLE for how things have always been done. As great as it is that Running gets on TV, I honestly believe that every time a meet/race is aired, we LOSE fans who tune in and think “gosh, this is the most boring thing ever.”

      Take some CHANCES for crying out loud.

      Secondly, (this is for track specifically) create a better in person meet experience. All the dead time, the lack of focus, the lack of ANY attempt to entertain fans between races and events, has created meets that lose any energy that it gains from amazing performances. If you go to any NBA or NFL game, every timeout, quarter break, or play review is CONSTANTLY filled with some sort of fan interaction. Be it cheerleaders, t-shirt bazookas, fan contests, cameras that pan to the fans. Just silly games to keep people engaged.

      For road races, create a Fan-Zone like Brendan Reilly mentioned where people can interact with the elites. Or organize cooldowns with the elites and the fans that wish to join.

      I sincerely wish that USATF would hire somebody that manages the in-house experience of NBA games, and have them bring their recommendations, expertise, and know-how to the USATF championships, and make a meet that for ONCE is entertaining for the casual fan that knows nothing about track.

      If we can accomplish these feats, then we will have made serious headway. But what is holding us back? Who else is holding us back? Is it money? Is it meet management?

      I don’t know those answers, but I can tell you who are not the problem: elites.

      – David Torrence

  5. I agree 100% with John on this. Toni, you are an outstanding commentator but your interest is and what has always seemed to be with elite athletes, period. You mentioned 7.15 pace is nothing impressive. Guess what, for someone who doesn’t have the talent level of a Mo Farah, 7.15 pace may be equivalent to Farah-type effort but those at the very top in the media world and athletics look down at these athletes as if they are second rate and not worthy of their time. They are working just as hard if not harder than these ‘elite’ athletes with the ability level that they have been given. I am nothing special yet I have run a 2.19 marathon and 1.07 half-marathon and never had much of talent other than the ability to enjoy running and make the best of my ability just like every runner in the race tries to do. The attention is always on the top runners but little is given to the sea of champions who are already out on the course, long forgotten because the media is too caught up in the top runner’s jock straps to pay them any mind. There is more to sport than simply running fast. Is there nothing remotely impressive about my 5.19 mile pace for 26.2 miles when the world record is 4.43 per mile pace? You have been around for years and have done an outstanding job at commentating at numerous races. I’ve listened to you since I was in high school but I also know we have to give runners who aren’t at the top just as much credit, just as much attention. They are the men and women who are probably working multiple jobs, raising children and trying their best to make do with the time that they have.

    • moruno28 says:

      Nate, I have to disagree with your comments about Toni not giving the non-elites their due. I ran similar times to you in my day and ran for a pretty good club. One of the highlights of my career was when when Toni and his partner (name escapes me right now) did a piece for RnR San Jose 1/2 on my teammate and I who had qualified for the OTs. It added a local slant to the race which had guys running 1:01 or 2.

      Our sport is unique in that it’s one of the few where your Average Joe can toe the line (albeit a little further back) with the world’s best. But it’s also one that does a terrible job of organizing its athletes and promoting itself. Athletes are allowed to dodge one another, aren’t required to talk to the media (nor trained for it), and often lack personality. On the flip side, fans/participants aren’t required to know anything about their sport’s best, yet are allowed to compete along side them. And they’re applauded for finishing rather than competing, even if only with themselves. I agree that many folks are pushing themselves to their own limits. But there are thousands more who are content to run/walk, take selfies on the course, and walk around with their finisher medal on after the race. This “fan” base supports the sport financially, but not much beyond that. This, I think Toni is right in that our sport needs to find ways to forge connections between the pack and the elites.

      I ran the LA Marathon in 2006 and one of the ways they bridge the gap is through the involvent of kids in the Students Run LA program. Both the kids and elite athletes were involved on the press conference, which took place at a local high school (Manual Arts HS). A great experience for all and it gave the kids a reason to care about results other than their own. It also allowed us fast guys/gals to understand the commitment that many of the runners in the back of the pack have. For all it’s faults, Devine Racing had or right that day (never mind they initially didn’t have the money to pay us prize money we had one). Other race organizers need to exercise some creativity to get everyone to care about what’s going on in all parts of the pack.

    • Jim says:

      “Guess what, for someone who doesn’t have the talent level of a Mo Farah, 7.15 pace may be equivalent to Farah-type effort but those at the very top in the media world and athletics look down at these athletes as if they are second rate and not worthy of their time. They are working just as hard if not harder than these ‘elite’ athletes with the ability level that they have been given.”

      I would argue that point… part of what separates a professional or sub-elite athlete from the rest of the pack is the ability to push closer to the red-line. Someone training 100+ miles per week will have a much better gauge on their fitness and is more likely to hit a physical barrier before they hit a mental one. The inverse is true of most casual runners. When you train for a half marathon and your goal is to finish, the mental barriers are definitely bigger challenges to overcome than the physical ones.

      You mention at the end of the race that we need to give runners who aren’t at the top just as much credit and attention… why? Look at every other professional sport. Do you think the NBA is lacking in quality because they don’t highlight the 40 something husband and father of three who plays pickup games at the Y on weekends? Is the lack of exposure of flag football hurting the NFL? I’m not saying that casual participants don’t matter; they obviously do. But it comes back to this “everybody’s a winner mentality.” We’re not all winners. We’re not all impressive at everything we do. We don’t all deserve attention for our efforts. And that’s OKAY.

      • Toni Reavis says:

        If everyone is a winner, then nobody is a winner. Kids aren’t stupid. We ought to stop treating them as such. If we lower the bar of expectation, that’s the height they will try to achieve. If we raise the bar, guess what? I say, upward!

  6. Glenn McCabe says:

    Keep the posts on the CG topic coming…John B’s comment on inviting an elite winner to be there w/ him for the last runner brings up an interesting point – you’ll find many a Kona Ironman winner coming back for that last runner before the cutoff, & many TRI events like REV3 making their elite panels accessible to the public before events etc…seems that endurance cousin of the sport just might be on to something & something could be learned…(& personally I think Jeptoo’s win overseas this weekend a big FU to CG for pulling the rug out of R&R Phili – intentional or not – if you build it & promote it & compensate they will come – if not, they will leave & take whatever limited press there is w/ them…& she did…& she ‘rocked’ it)

  7. with elite support cut out (appearance fees, travel and lodging, prize money etc) of competitor races, how was the Philadelphia half marathon able to get runners the caliber of Stanley Biwott who won in 59:37 and another runner under an hour and other pretty good runners.

    i am very curious as to how that happened, i was expecting a fairly pedestrian time to win.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Some runners had already planned their fall seasons around the Philly race, and it made more sense to maintain those schedules than to look for an alternative. Mostly the cut back in appearance fees effected the very top of the food chain. Those top folks will find an alternative tune up opportunity, but you will most likely continue to see a certain level of talent (2nd tier) will continue to show up to race for whatever prize money may stll be on offer.

  8. […] showcase Moore’s quote today in response to my previous post DUMBING DOWN, SLOWING DOWN which has generated quite a number of responses, including one from 2:19 marathoner Nate […]

  9. Greg M says:

    A big chunk of NASCAR’s success can be attributed to the personalities – or at least the public images – of the drivers. I am not suggesting that elite runners become WWE-type caricatures; rather I am suggesting that elite runners tell some of their personal stories. Something as simple as where a person was born or went to college can provide an instant fan base rooting for their hometown hero. Also, races should insist on personal appearances, e.g., at race expos or post-race parties (not at the elites-only tent), as part of their appearance fees. John Bingham’s suggestion/invitation to return to the finish line and cheer on the masses would be an excellent start. Lastly, to build the sport, it is less important to have the fastest runners and more important to have the most engaging runners – ones who are willing to do the PR work and have the communication skills to do it effectively. Even the multi-millionaires in team sports make the time – even on game days – to sign autographs, and visit schools, hospitals and little leagues. There is no reason an Olympic runner cannot do the same thing.

    • Ilsa Paulson says:

      Perfectly stated! We elite runners should follow your suggestions Greg M. Doing so would go along way in helping promote our sport, especially among the masses, as well as serve as a positive example to young runners dreaming of one day competing at the highest level as well in their sport.

  10. Chris Mengel says:

    Toni (and John),

    About 12 years ago, I decided to get off the couch. It was time. The pressures of work, family, and life in general had turned this former D1 baseball player into a couch potato. I wanted a sport that was inexpensive, did not require a membership, and that I could do when I had the time and when I wanted to. I started running. At first, I couldn’t make it to the end of the block without stopping. No lie.

    I picked up a book by John Bingham which told me that I too could be a runner, an athlete. I went and bought a pair of good running shoes at a local store here in Michigan called Hansons Running Shops. The two guys who worked at the running store and sold me my first pair of running shoes were obviously runners. They were college grads, young, reed thin, and wearing running apparel.

    I read John’s book, persisted with my (slow) running, and would stop by the store now and again for apparel, new shoes, and encouragement. I found out that the guys I talked to were elite long distance runners with something called the Hansons Distance Project. With the help of John’s book, I started running a race or two, a 5K for fun, then a 10K. I followed the races of the guys at the running store that I met and they followed mine. The book was working and buttressed by the inspiration of the guys at the store, my running improved. My firm even did a little legal work for one of the guys at the store after he was hit by a car and injured while on a training run with his teammates. To me, the drive, dedication, and sacrifices these guys made for their sport, toiling away in total anonymity, was awe-inspiring; noble even.

    I was in Boston a few years back to see my daughter run her first Boston Marathon. She’s the real runner in the family. It just so happened that the Hansons sent a contingent of their team to run Boston that same year. I ran the family fun run 5K which the BAA puts on the day before the marathon. To my amazement, waiting for me at the finish line and cheering me on were the two Hansons runners, Patrick Rizzo and Luke Humphrey. I was in awe. The day before the biggest race of their careers and they show up to watch an old man like me run a 5K.

    With John’s books I’ve continued my love of running and have even run a few marathons. With the encouragement of Keith and Kevin Hanson and their athletes, I’ve developed a love for the sport of running. How much? Last December, urged on by my professional friends at the now Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, I sat for the agent’s exam at USATF’s annual meeting in Daytona Beach. Besides being a lawyer (and still slow runner), I am now a certified athlete representative and have formed my own sports agency, Elite Runner Management. Luke Humphrey is now one of my athletes.

    My point? We can, and must, make changes to the sport together, both professional and plodder. As long as we’re all on board and pulling the oars in the same direction we can interest amateurs, compensate professionals, and financially satisfy sponsors. Never happen? That’s what I said when I thought about the possibility of someday running a marathon when I couldn’t even make it to the end of the block.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Greg,

      Wonderful story, and a real-world example of how it all has to work as a piece rather than separate components. The Hansons have always understood the need to promote their athletes, not just train them to run well. Good luck in the agenting trade.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Chris. Yes, it takes connections from front to back. It isn’t a different feeling, just different paces. Effort links the speeds. Everyone can relate if put in the proper frame of mind. It used to be like this, and could (and should) be again.

  11. bobhodge1979 says:

    Hey Toni,

    Seems to me most runners had this kind of attitude: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4832225.Billy_Ray_Chitwood/blog/tag/wannabe-distance-god  and now? Not so much.

    Hodgie

  12. thomas Edgar says:

    To Dr. Adler: I am a retired professor who, for years have advocated the theory of Alfred Adler, who came to America just before Hitler invaded his homeland in Austria. I find that I agree with your political views, as would A. Adler. A miracle, oh my!

  13. Bingham wasn’t the first one at the trough to expose the benefits of jogging. Jim Fixx amd Dr. George Sheehan were their years earlier. My problem with Bingham is that he praises joggers and walk-joggers while sounding mocking (whether intentionally or not) those of us who take the sport seriously, that want to run PR’s, that love racing, even when PR’s are a thing of the past. Bingham is systematic of the everyone is a winner syndrome. I’m sorry, but competition is what made this country great.

  14. Good stuff all the way around. Thanks for starting it, Tony. I’ll offer two cents: one in this post and one in the next post. One penny: shame on the Competitor Group for shutting down the American elite athlete program. Part of my personal anger and professional disappointment in that decision is that they came in and beat up the local marathons and created a significant monopoly in courses, crowds, sponsors, etc. However, there is an opportunity here for all of us local race directors: support your local and regional heroes with prize money, with media attention, with training programs. Celebrate the local and the national will grow . . .

  15. Penny #2: Part of the issue is language: some care about the “sport” of long distance running; some care about the “event” of a big-city marathon or some other cultural happening. And some care about the quest of the sport at a certain stage in life, then care about the event or the activity at a different stage of life. As a younger man, my great white whale was sub 2:20 because that was the official mark of excellence. It was super-important to me — my effort at hitting that goal defined my self-worth. In some ways, achieving that goal itself defined my self-worth, but mainly it was my effort towards that goal. Once I hit the goal, I did not have any desire to continue to the next running goal. It was time to focus on other whales. Now, in my role as Director of Coaching Education for the Road Runners Club of America, I spend weekends helping community-based running coaches learn how to help their athletes achieve their particular running goals — but these goals are just pieces of busy, hectic, and challenging daily lives. That’s why I admire Galloway: he uses his Olympic background to help people like my mom. My take on it can be summed up in two t-shirt slogans: when Greg Wenneborg and I started The Workout Group back in ’97, our tag line was “In Pursuit of Leg Speed.” We didn’t care if you were fast, we just wanted you to care about being faster. Fast forward 15 years, and another t-shirt slogan is “Making Tucson better through running.” At this stage in my life, I want to marry leg speed with civic improvement — thus, making events that cater to local speedsters and children and newbies and everything in between.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Randy,

      Running is obviously a big enough tent to hold all. We should encourage full participation, but identify and reward excellence.

      • Yes — big tent for sure! And frankly, this is all a false dichotomy: all of us are slower than some and faster than others. I am glad that people like Toni are raising the Competitor issue. My gripe with them is that they pushed out and bought out and crowded out the local races, so now what courses can Oly Trials hopefuls go to run fast? What races will provide support to the regional, national, and world-class runners who go to these things to race and not just complete the distance. (Oh my goodness, it is a sad day when I feel the need to offer the disclaimer that “finishing” is awesome! I got tears watching my mom finish her first marathon at 50, and I got tears watching my wife get dropped from the fast pack but then rally to run tough to the end at Cal International . . . different level of effort from mom and wife, but same sort of tears of pride and happiness . . .) I’m off to find a tent-maker . . .

  16. johnlofranco says:

    “Today, unless you are fortunate enough to have a Mo Farah emigrate to your shores and end up a world-beater, there is no connection from front to back.”

    Why? Why does an elite runner have to be from the same shores as you to have a connection? I identify plenty with Bekele. I think he’s awesome. I want to be him as much as I want to be Wayne Gretzky. Neither is going to happen, but I feel closer to Ken than to Wayne, despite the fact that one is Canadian and white, like me, and the other is Ethiopian and black.

  17. Keith Stone says:

    I known John since before he was “famous” and I would disagree that he epitomizes the “everyone’s a winner” syndrome. The problems as I see it is we have a vocal minority that exposes the “everyone that doesn’t win is a loser” philosophy. I feel that’s far more destructive than “everyone’s a winner” because this constant drum-beat to define who’s a “real” runner and whose not alienates many that would express a more serious interest in the SPORT of running if they didn’t feel like there were so many in the sport that just want them to go away.

    Over the years I’ve hosted a number of elite runners and running personalities (including John Bingham) at my house or at banquets and I have to say it’s not the real elites doing all the complaining. I think we’re allowing the wrong people to speak for our sport. Spouting off about how every marathon should cut off at 4 hours, how age group awards should be eliminated, or why people should just hang up the shoes once they’re not willing to sacrifice their entire life to training just gets peoples backs up. Since this constant barrage of negativity is coming from the faster (but not fastest) participants it looks to the slower participants as if it’s coming from the very front, and it’s a poison that kills the desire to follow the sporting aspects of running.

    Every run doesn’t need to end with someone puking or passing out to be meaningful, so why do we allow this notion to be perpetuated in the name of “not dumbing down the sport”? We all know our fare share of trials-qualifier caliber athletes that do the occasional race with a funny hat, a costume, or in a centipede so why is it a mortal sin when someone at the back of the pack does it? What causes more harm to the sport, my nearly 60 year old wife running a 5:30 marathon or some wise-acre near the finish asking loud enough to heard “why even bother?”.

    There are thousands that are hurt and sometimes humiliated by that type of commentary. It does nothing to improve the visibility of the actual sport of running when we put more emphasis on who to kick out rather than who to encourage. If we don’t want the sport to “dumb down” we need to make the ambassadors of the sport less antagonistic. For every Pat Rizzo at a finish line there’s a hundred message board postings about waddling wastes of protoplasm that negates the fine example. If we want people in the back to care and follow the progress of those at the front, maybe just not calling them names would be a good start.

    • Galen Garrison says:

      Totally agree with this post. Well stated!

      Having paced a few back-of-the-pack marathoners individually or in groups, I hear more stories of heroism – having dropped a couple hundred pounds to compete (I only weigh 180), choosing a marathon to work through the loss of a son in the war in Iraq, etc. – than from those sub-3-hour finishers who have worked very hard, to their credit.

      I am inspired by some of the waddlers. The comparisons for their stories is not their finish times to those of the winners but their finish compared to where they used to be prior to choosing to start running for the first time. They are simply inspiring.

      Cheers,
      gg

      • Toni Reavis says:

        Trying hard is the key element that cross all speed boundaries. At first it is trying hard to complete the training and distance, but then it’s trying hard to better yourself, because that is a metaphor for life.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      I think the % of runners who look down on less talented, but dedicated slower runners is quite small. Effort is the key element, not finishing time. Effort to improve the quality of life only sometimes means faster speed. A toast, then, to dedication and process, not results alone.

  18. R Leduc says:

    ” but there seems to be little in the sport these days to carry the runners that John has gotten off the couch to the next level of aiming to run faster and treat our events like RACES. ”

    That’s the real key, I think. I’m now approaching 49 years old and have only run for about 3.5 years at this point. Essentially a couch to 5K guy, my first 5K was a completely crappy 32 minutes. For some reason – probably midlife crisis, truth be told – I’ve had that drive to improve and I’m now up to your standard of a totally unimpressive 7:15 miles for a 10K. And I want much more – shooting for a slightly less totally unimpressive sub-40 10K in the coming year. The bones appear to be too fragile to be competitive at the marathon distance.

    My advantage over a typical couch to 5K-er was getting into a group that had a coach with real individual level coaching. Lots of running stores etc. have “group runs” but connecting runners with actual coaches seems to be something that could be pushed more and made more available. I don’t think most running duffers even know that such a thing is possible or what it would mean for their running. Many duffers are looking for health outcomes -weight loss, cardiovascular health – rather than fast times. The connection can be made that higher intensity workouts are an important part of the equation on both counts. Running stores should take note of this in their own best interests. Shout out to Mill City Running in Minneapolis for really buying into this philosophy. Also, many thanks to Sweatshop Fitness in St. Paul and coach Sheri Aggarwal for introducing me to running.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      This is what my wife Toya is doing in San Diego via her TReavisFitness.com. She coaches average runners who are in search of improvement. It is very inspiring to see, but it is effort based within the parameters of talent and time invested away from work and family commitments. I keep saying, it should be win-win, not zero-sum. All speeds should support all other speeds across the spectrum. We are all flawed.

  19. […] a recent blog [Dumbing Down] Toni Reavis, a well-respected member of the running community, quoted long time sports agent […]

  20. Galen Garrison says:

    I appreciate John Bingham’s comments and the other commenters who mentioned Scott Jurek and the Kona Ironman.

    Triathlons are not my sport of choice but marathons and now ultramarathons are. With 120 marathons plus 27 ultras (only 1 of those a 100-miler), I detect a distinct difference in the culture and accessibility of the “elites” between marathons and versus Ironmans and ultramarathons.

    Earlier this year Karl Meltzer won the Antelope Island Buffalo Run (100 miles) finishing at 14:34:00, one hour, thirty-six minutes ahead of second place. (That’s 8:44/mile for 100 miles in gale and sub-freezing conditions.) That day, I was running the 50 miler. When I came into one of the aid stations, Karl was there handing out water and such and encouraging people along their way. Prior to that, I had never met him but only heard of him. On that day, he became a giant in my world and modeled what winning behavior is to me for the ultra-running community.

    Two weekends ago, I was crewing my friend at the Wasatch Front 100 (he coached me to my first 100 finish). At the first aid station where crew had access, Karl was there socializing. I introduced myself and asked for his help reviewing what I had laid out, as it was my first time crewing; he gladly obliged. When my runner came into the aid station, Karl wiped down his head and back of his neck with a cold rag both helping my runner and teaching me.

    For those who would say that elites leave it all on the course, how are they different than Jurek and Meltzer such that both of them are able to interact with finishers behind them? Look at
    Patrick Makau’s, 2011 Berlin Marathon world record 2:03:38 finish and how he interacted with the crowd. (http://youtu.be/-G-1XDmk2vs?t=6m10s (Start at 6:10 – 7:15)) He had gas left in the tank for others even after setting a world record.

    If race directors and elites want the rest of the runners to care about the elites, then intentional interaction must be scheduled just as another commenter mentioned the relationship than fans have with their NASCAR heroes. (I am not a NASCAR fan, but you must respect their business model.) Otherwise, Bingham and Galloway will be heroes of the average marathoners, and we (my PR is 3:30) will gravitate toward the less-expensive (perhaps because of little to no prize money) and more average-runner-centric races.

    Personally, I do not care if elites are at any marathons. I have no connection to them whatsoever. I do care about Jurek and Meltzer, as I have met them both when they were interacting with and in their own way giving back to the running communities which have provided them their livelihood. (Jurek held a runner’s clinic, fun run, meet-and-greet, and book signing at Wasatch Running Center, SLC, UT.)

    There sure are some great ideas being offered by others. Thank you for bringing up the topic. I sure hope race directors and elites take it to heart. If so, everyone comes out a winner.

    Cheers,
    gg

    PS Meltzer interview is here: http://www.irunfar.com/2013/03/karl-meltzer-2013-buffalo-run-100-mile-champion-interview.html

  21. Peter Andersson says:

    The answer is a running equivivalent to biathlon. You Americans love your guns, I can’t understand why this hasn’t happended already, if for nothing else the NRA surely has the money to put into forming an elite group for such a sport.

    Still mainly a European thing, maybe, but the Biathlon is winning popularity faster than ordinarie Nordic Skiing is losing it. With the head start that American weapons culture have over Europe (and Africa) it would be a slam dunk to get the USA to dominate the event for the first ten years.

    • Peter Andersson says:

      When I wrote that the Biathlon is winning popularity faster than Nordic Skiing is losing it I didn’t mean among John Doe Couch Potatoes participants, there’s really no such thing there, I meant in terms of television popularity, prize money for the athletes and creating some endurance sport “stars” that become household names in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Russia… well, all the old Nordic Ski dominants really!

    • johnlofranco says:

      This is the kind of out of the box thinking that could radically change the sport. Well done!

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Peter,

      If would have to include hand guns and assault rifles to take root in America. The NRA Biathlon Championships. Indeed.

  22. Josh Sadlock says:

    This whole piece is spot on. We have become a nation entirely ok with mediocrity. It’s almost come to a point where the last place finisher in a race is given as much adulation and respect because hey at least they finished. Sure there is something to be said about perseverance but why should someone finishing a 5k in over an hour be applauded? Maybe they should have just trained harder. I would consider myself safely in the sub elite class and I believe many of us in that class do look down slightly on the hobby jogging majority. After all, when was the last time any of us stopped on the course to snap a picture with a girlfriend or post to Facebook mid race? The two things just can’t be compared and yet I think many in the non competitive group don’t see themselves as any different as an elite runner. They finished the marathon after all and most have no idea of how hard the elites train. You don’t earn my respect just by finishing a marathon and I don’t think elites need to stay until the 5 hour jogger finishes the race. Any human being can run a marathon in 5 hours with almost no training. It is not an impressive feat. Hell, 300 pounders on biggest loser routinely finish marathons and you know they haven’t trained a lick for it. The marathon becoming just another bucket list item has simply just completely dumbed down the respect for the race and those who are actually competing.

    All that being said, I agree that US elites need to do a better job of promoting themselves. Stop being such cloisters of shut ins who do nothing but log miles and sleep. I am a huge fan of the sport, yet I could tell you hardly anything about a single one of the elite athletes I follow except for maybe Nick Symmonds, and even then he is criticized for promoting himself. Really does anyone really know a thing about Galen Rupp or Matt Tegenkamp? Hardly and that is where the sport fails its elites. That being said, it is incredibly hard to promote yourself as a runner in the way an NBA star does. It’s simply too taxing of a sport and I don’t blame them one bit. Running 15-20 miles a day doesn’t leave you with much energy to do media requests. And believe me, the last thing any elite wants to do after red lining for over 2 hours is stand for another 3 hours to watch Joe Schmo waddle across the line.

    • rleduc321 says:

      Matt Tegenkamp is Badger! On Wisconsin!

    • Toni Reavis says:

      What once was a sport then became a hobby, and has now morphed into a business. The trajectory of speed has fallen with each iteration.

    • matt R says:

      Uff, I’ve said it before and it still rings true “sub-elites” (or those that call themselves that) are the worst. I hate to break it to you big boy but in terms of professional running, you are the same as the hobby jogger. And acting like an entitled ass doesn’t earn you MY respect because, honestly, outside of winning a few local races, you haven’t done anything.

      Like Toni mentioned it is about effort. Sure, I can somewhat get on board with people who don’t train and run 5+ hours. But many “slow runners” put in an honest effort and and simply limited by their ability. To paint them all the same is asinine.

      Furthermore this idea that runners are some cut above other pro athletes is dumb. I don’t deny that Galen, Symmonds and Martinez work hard but to act like pros in other sport don’t spend the a similar amount time is wrong. AND they do media request before and after most games and practices. The difference is there is no overreaching organization to manage this. NBA, NFL, NHL etc players have the league and their teams to market them. Runners do not. Oooo 15 miles a day.. Just showing up and waiting for people to worship because you can throw down sub 6 min miles for a marathon isn’t a recipe for success. And demanding it is arrogance.

  23. Robert says:

    I’m reading lots of doomsday articles about the current poor state of T&F. Television has practically abandoned it and if it weren’t so popular in Europe, it would be on life supports. It’s clear that broadcasts don’t help, with events being cut-up with commercials at the wrong times and few people can connect to the onslaught of African runners, no matter how great they are. To me the real problem is the highly individualistic look of the sport. There is no team aspect, except during the Olympics and during the World Championships. Track needs to reorganize around a team concept, create connections with audiences by focusing on the teams and the individuals’ personas as part of the team, create logos and (controversial!) separate track from field events. Here’s how it might look;

    Track & Road
    • Merge the 2 events
    • Remove field events( with steeple and half marathon added to field events in a totally separate venue)
    • Stage at tracks with big stadiums (example-baseball stadiums in fall and winter, football in spring and summer)
    • Start season(weekly) with these events- 100, 200, 400, 1 mile,5k and 10 k ( all on track)
    • Alternate with” track and road events”—– 100,200,400 (all on track) 1 mile,5k,10k (starts at track, goes to road- ends on track- televised in stadium for crowd that pays)
    • Team based with team scoring based strictly on positions, not times- unless times equal certified top 5 times posted in an event or are course records ( or, of course is a world record)- then points added, based on times
    • 20 Teams composed of limit of 3 individuals per team per event ( or some such number)- same rules that currently exist with other professional sports such as baseball, basketball concerning uniforms, footwear, logos, sponsors , non-team events that players-ie runners can compete in or not and such- (Teams spread throughout country, with pairings set-up during the season and multi-team meetings held at the end of the fall and winter)
    • Season lasts 9 months- September to May
    • Championships start in April ( top 10, with pairings based on season ending standings) with Super Meet in May ( Top 2)
    • Summer is free time or time to race as individuals throughout Europe, elsewhere
    • Start in USA- become multi-national as popularity builds- add beer and noise and fan contests at events

    Yeah!!!!!- I’d pay to see this.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Now we’re thinking. Bring track to the roads and roads to the track. The entire track meet is conducted among teams, each with a sprinter or two, a middle distance runner, throwers and jumpers. Then conduct a road race that begins in the stadium, and like the Olympic and World Champs Marathons, hits the street and finishes back in stadium, with updates from the course shown on the stadium JumboTron. Each event is then tied to every other event, the sprinter cares how the shot putter does, and vice versa. At the end of the meet, some team wins. At the end of the season you have playoffs between the top teams. This single event during a meet just separates the athletes from caring about each other. Teams is how high school and colleges conduct track meets, and those can be much more exciting than the pro meets where nothing is tied to anything else.

  24. rob says:

    I hear what you are saying, and you raise some interesting points, but I think you are looking at this from a perspective that, I think, is quite flawed – and a touch elitist actually.

    I am a late in life runner – I didn’t start running until I was 40 – and I’ve only been running for a little over a year. My PR for 5k is 27:22 and 10k is 49:40 (I am currently training for a half).

    Sometimes I’ll be running a 5k, and the “winners” are finishing in like 15 minutes… who exactly are they racing against? Shouldn’t they be trying to challenge themselves a bit more? I mean, it’s quite obvious they can run already run 5k, maybe they should try something a bit harder in life…

    My point is, I run to challenge *myself* not to compete for a trinket of metal and bragging rights. I try to improve *myself*. Sometimes my goal is to run farther, sometimes faster, sometimes on different terrain. I have no desire to “beat you”, and to be honest, I find people who “want to win against you” to be kind of douchey. Running in a ‘race’ is a good way to get an non-stopping, fully measured out, 3rd party timed view into how I am doing on my personal training goals.

    I never ran cross country when I was young, and I’ve never run as a competitive sport – and I never will. I think the _vast majority_ of runners are like that.

    I agree with you, however, that there should be some kind of “elite races” (or, rather, a race in the true sense of the word). There should likely be more races where you have to qualify with a base time so people like you (and my brother who is an amazing runner and been doing it all his life) can compete against each other in a sporty way. So you get to say “ha ha ha, I am faster than you and I have now dominated you ha ha ha I am the best around”

    But to equate *more* people running, *more* races happening, *more* people interested in the sport, *more* people getting fit to the decline of education is… well… confusing to me.

    I will never stop running if I can help it, and I will never compete against you. I 100% satisfied that, and I don’t think it’s bad in anyway shape or form.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Competing against yourself is a fine goal. But sometimes our best is pulled out of us from the outside. You’d be surprised how much adrenalin can pump in spirited competition. It isn’t a negative thing, instead it can actually be fun and bonding. You ought to try it sometime.

      • rob says:

        No thanks, I am not interested in that. Never have been. I am only interested in becoming better than myself. I don’t need to measure myself against other people – it’s irrelevant.

    • The word “compete” comes from a latin root: compare. It means to strive together. Competition is not a solitary affair. The others around us help us get the best out of ourselves. And even then, you might find those who run a 5k in 15min still have plenty of room to challenge themselves. It is not easier for them than it is for you. This is the unfortunate, misunderstood “divide” between elites and recreational runners: there is not much difference in your self-described reasons for running than for an elite. The douchey-types who care more about beating someone are fewer than you think. Most of us, at any speed, are all about challenging ourselves. We do it in competitions because that allows us to get the most out of ourselves.

  25. Greg M says:

    I’m continually surprised and disappointed when I hear slower runners accuse faster runners of being elitist, snobbish and condescending towards them when it seems to me there is ample evidence of the reverse, as well. You can see numerous examples of both viewpoints just in the comments on this post. Fortunately, I would like to think that both viewpoints are in the minority and that most runners have great respect for each other, regardless of their respective paces. Perhaps a good place to start is to recognize there is more that unites us than divides us. For starters, except for the very, very elite (who are very few in number), every runner is working full-time (sometimes at more than 1 job) and trying to balance family life, pay bills, pay for healthcare, etc. The people finishing first and last at your local 10K could very easily be co-workers.

  26. While I agree that the societal emphasis on participation over excellence and competition is potentially problematic not only for running, but for all areas of our society, economy, and culture, I think the problem with elite running goes beyond that.

    I wrote this last week (http://www.aquiteniceblog.com/rock-n-roll-elite-running-and-the-lack-of-personality-in-professional-running/) in which I contend that elite runners are not helping their cause by not developing the type of personalities athletes in other major sports have adopted. Personality is easier to market than performance, especially in a more obscure sport like running.

  27. Galen Garrison says:

    I appreciate John Bingham’s comments and the other commenters who mentioned Scott Jurek and the Kona Ironman.

    Triathlons are not my sport of choice but marathons and now ultramarathons are. With 120 marathons plus 27 ultras (only 1 of those a 100-miler), I detect a distinct difference in the culture and accessibility of the “elites” between marathons and versus Ironmans and ultramarathons.

    Earlier this year Karl Meltzer won the Antelope Island Buffalo Run (100 miles) finishing at 14:34:00, one hour, thirty-six minutes ahead of second place. (That’s 8:44/mile for 100 miles in gale and sub-freezing conditions.) That day, I was running the 50 miler. When I came into one of the aid stations, Karl was there handing out water and such and encouraging people along their way. Prior to that, I had never met him but only heard of him. On that day, he became a giant in my world and modeled what winning behavior is to me for the ultra-running community.

    Two weekends ago, I was crewing my friend at the Wasatch Front 100 (he coached me to my first 100 finish). At the first aid station where crew had access, Karl was there socializing. I introduced myself and asked for his help reviewing what I had laid out, as it was my first time crewing; he gladly obliged. When my runner came into the aid station, Karl wiped down his head and back of his neck with a cold rag both helping my runner and teaching me.

    For those who would say that elites leave it all on the course, how are they different than Jurek and Meltzer such that both of them are able to interact with finishers behind them? Look at
    Patrick Makau’s, 2011 Berlin Marathon world record 2:03:38 finish and how he interacted with the crowd. (http://youtu.be/-G-1XDmk2vs?t=6m10s (Start at 6:10 – 7:15)) He had gas left in the tank for others even after setting a world record.

    If race directors and elites want the rest of the runners to care about the elites, then intentional interaction must be scheduled just as another commenter mentioned the relationship than fans have with their NASCAR heroes. (I am not a NASCAR fan, but you must respect their business model.) Otherwise, Bingham and Galloway will be heroes of the average marathoners, and we (my PR is 3:30) will gravitate toward the less-expensive (perhaps because of little to no prize money) and more average-runner-centric races.

    Personally, I do not care if elites are at any marathons. I have no connection to them whatsoever. I do care about Jurek and Meltzer, as I have met them both when they were interacting with and in their own way giving back to the running communities which have provided them their livelihood. (Jurek held a runner’s clinic, fun run, meet-and-greet, and book signing at Wasatch Running Center, SLC, UT.)

    There sure are some great ideas being offered by others. Thank you for bringing up the topic. I sure hope race directors and elites take it to heart. If so, everyone comes out a winner.

    Cheers,
    gg

    PS Meltzer interview is here: http://www.irunfar.com/2013/03/karl-meltzer-2013-buffalo-run-100-mile-champion-interview.html

  28. David Kahn says:

    Toni:
    Shame on you for being an Elite wannabe. You will never be in that league. And as a 5:44 PR Marathoner I do know what an Elite Marathoner is as I was fortunate enough to have Meb Keflezighi meet me at Mile 25 during Boston 2012 in 90 degree heat and run me in to a 6:42 Finish on Boylston Street. You see , I first met Meb at the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Expo in 2010. We visited for a few minutes and he couldn’t and other Elites imagine running for 6 Plus hours. What respect he had for us back of the packers. Through Meb I met and visited with Ryan Hall, Geoffrey Mutai, Wilson Kipsang, Feyisa Lilesa , Gabre Gebrmariam, and Yared Asmerom. All Elites, All Olympians!! .. And these weren’t just take a picture meetings, these were hang out, grab lunch, dinner, tea, and yes, even go for a run at a 10 minute pace with me for a few miles. NONE of these athletes, who are all major marathon winners and Olympic Medalists have ever looked down on us. They understand that we are the ones who pay to run so they can get paid six figure incomes to run. Yes Toni, with your attitude you will never be in that league, just another 3 hour marathoner who thinks they are a bad ass, who really just needs to drop the BAD in front of the ASS and appreciate that we are all out there for different reasons and stop this elitist self appointed righteous sense of entitlement to they have not earned that right. When you can run Boston in an Elite time, then maybe you can talk like an Elite runner and encourage others to run and keep growing this great sport. Oh and by the way, the day after Meb, Ryan, and Abdi qualified for the 2012 London Olympics at the Houston Marathon Trials Jan 2012, they were all out there at the finish line high fiving the finishers of the regular marathon. Maybe one day you’ll meet me at mile 25 and run me in 90 degree heat. Now that is the sign of a true champion. Of which you are yet to become. Congratulations Miss Wannabe !!!

    • bobhodge1979 says:

      David, the wannabes are the heart of athletics. Every elite you mentioned came from the ranks of the wannabes. What American Distance Running needs is many more wannabes. Whether they become elite or not they will be testing their limits and striving for the top echelon.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Thanks for the reply, David. Gotta love the energy, regardless of where its directed. Actually, though, I never was an elite wannabe runner, much less badass. I was a reporter first, runner second, and have always kept those distinctions in that order. 30+ years of close observation is what I offer. I am in full appreciation of any and all who lace up and get out, but The Show from a media standpoint remains at the point of attack. That’s just competition, which is what I cover. My observations about the slowing of times is not to denigrate the individual runners, but to reflect on the larger societal context in which goals are set and standards achieved. I am not alone in these observations. Please try not to take them so personally, as they were not aimed that way. Continued success in your running.

  29. Brian Curran says:

    I have running since 1976. Growing up in the Boston area I was lucky enough to meet runners like Bill Rodgers and Bob Hodge. When they were running smaller races they took the time to cheer on other runners and make us feel important. I think asking elite runners to stick around to cheer on other runners in large races is not realistic. The finish line area is crazy enough without having runners that have already finished runners hanging around.

  30. Peter Andersson says:

    Two more on the biathlon:

    I guess most of them actually already do run a lot in the summer – would it be hard to get the best of them to try an event course running-biathlon in the summer as they already have to keep up both running and shooting practise anyway?

    It also came to me that there’s actually already a side business for building teams around the best athletes – I know one Swedish biathloner who let people test shoot new rifles for him every pre-season before he gets the best ones for himself. Leading up to the Olympics in Whistler he had a guy giving 5-10 different new rifles more than 100’000 shots in totalt to pick the 2-3 best ones (remember, a manufactoring mistake that make the bullet go 0,5 mm off the mark compared to another rifle can be the diffence between medals or not). That way he could focus on running and roller-skiing during the first half of the pre-season knowing for sure that the 2-3 he then would go into the season with would be top notch for sure.

    For those of you who never watched a biathlon, here’s a half hour with one of his victories:

  31. Gerd says:

    I don´t understand the whole discussion. It is really up to me whether I want to be a better runner or not. Sure, talent wise there are huge differences but I have never tried to look up at an elite athlete in order to run my best or felt intimidated by how far back I was at the end of a Marathon. I started to run at age 39 almost 15 years ago being overweight. Then I bought a training book and even so I was a beginner I challenged myself and picked the advanced program which had me running six days a week up to 50 miles. I trained half a year for my first Marathon, lost almost 31 lbs on the way, finished the race in 3:17 flat. Since then I have never looked back, just forward to my next Marathon. A few years later I wanted to help a friend of mine who is big and heavy to run his first Marathon in less than 4 hours. For me then it was a very easy pace and I was joking around urging on my friend throughout the race. What really struck me was how the fellow 4 hour runners literally worked their butts off to just hold their pace. My hat off to them and everybody who has the motivation to run hard and do their best when ever they toe the starting line.I don´t think to them it is important whether there is any elite runner in the race at all. I believe you either have the motivation inside of you or you don´t. Even 50 elite athletes cheering at the finishline doesn´t make a difference in this.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Thanks, Gerd.

      Your key line (for me) is…”My hat’s off to them and everybody who has the motivation to run hard and do their best when ever they toe the starting line.”

      With that I couldn’t agree more. Challenging yourself is what transfers over into other aspects of life, and why it should be encouraged in running. Keep trying.

      Toni

  32. Bill says:

    I am surprised that Toni did not mention the sweeper that the Competitor Group uses. And no I am not talking about sweeping the back of the pack off the course if they can not maintain the minimum pace…I am talking about driving you further up the course to catch up with the pack. This is from the RnR Philly website…one of the options if you fall below the minimum pace.

    ‘•Board a “sag wagon” shuttle to move forward on the course, where they may continue to participate in the event, maintaining the minimum pace required’

    I am a midpack runner and i encourage anyone to get off the couch and run, but you have to respect the distance that you are running and you have to push yourself to improve. Dont be satisfied with just finishing…run like hell and push your body to the edge.

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Bill,

      The practice of driving people further up the course so they can finish within the road closing time, all to maintain the business model of delivering the charity contributions, is so horrific, so antithetical to the integrity that defines the sport, that I must have blocked it from my mind. Of all the new trends in running, that is the most despicable.

  33. […] an article by Kevin Helliker in the Wall Street Journal and a blog post by Toni Reavis entitled, Dumbing Down, Slowing Down. The gist of both is that younger runners are entering races with less concern about their […]

  34. Hi Toni, I saw you mentioned in Helliker’s WSJ article. There is an excellent piece that critiques it from a Millennial perspective here: http://incontrarian.com/blog/2013/9/23/the-wall-street-journal-millennials-are-uncompetitivecommunist

    I think you should all read it!

    • Toni Reavis says:

      Joshua,

      Thanks for the reply and the link. I read your piece with interest. You wrote, “Organizing a sport places barriers to enjoying the sport itself.” To which I say, yes, it CAN place barriers, but only in the way it is presented to the players. Such universal statements rarely hold true. But I get your point.

      As kids we used to play pick – up everything, depending on the season. But my friends and I always kept score, and it didn’t ruin anything.

      I’m sure you’ll recall how young boys show affection for one another by deriding any and all perceived weaknesses. For us that included calling one another derisively by our fathers’ non-traditional first names. Yes, it was cruel, in its way, but it also toughened us up for the larger world.

      Running hard and keeping time is a little like that. It has carry-over properties. Not to say every race has to be an all-out, gut-buster; to each his own, as with all things. But not to encourage people to try hard and improve (at whatever level) is eliminating an important tool in the fashioning of a full life. I’m sure you strove to get into and then to achieve good grades at Stanford. And I’d be willing to bet you don’t think we should get rid of grades at school. In any case, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Safe travels.

    • Greg M says:

      The author of the In Contrarian piece should be ashamed of himself. To describe athletic coaches as being “fascist” is a more simplistic and far more dangerous accusation than even the WSJ article’s characterizations of Millennials. Yes, there are bad athletic coaches and some are narcissistic control-freaks, but there are also many great coaches who put the kids first. I am sorry if the author has not met enough of the latter.

      I too played a lot of pick-up games with my friends while I was growing up and they were a lot of fun, but I also played organized sports and through those I learned how to play the game better – not just in terms of skills, but fairer and with more respect for my teammates and my opponents. The author takes the libertarian view that cheating only happens in organized sports, but left to themselves and pick-up games, kids will play the game fairly. This runs counter to my own experiences and I’m sure to the experiences of many, many others.

      Imagine if we were talking instead about a musician. If he were content to sit in his room and play or sing without ever getting on stage, that would be fine and he would probably be happy, but he would probably never learn new techniques or even see the potential in his own skill or in music as a whole. Imagine if Pavarotti had never sung on stage or if Rembrandt had never exhibited a painting; surely we all would have lost something. We watch elite runners and other athletes the same way we watch a great musician or look at a great painting: because we admire the skill and talent and it represents the pinnacle of the sport or the art form. The author of the Contrarian piece is certainly entitled to whatever makes him happy, whether that is a pick-up game or playing with a few friends. But to deny that competition makes others happy or that it pushes us to see the potential both in ourselves and in the larger world is horribly narrow-minded.

  35. […] abandoning competition and running races ‘for the bling’. The article – and the ‘Dumbing Down, Slowing Down’ article that inspired it – contend that competitiveness is dulled in the aftermath of a generation […]

  36. […] “This is emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness, and should be of concern to us all,” Toni Reavis, veteran running commentator, in Dumbing Down, Slowing Down […]

  37. […] Upon reading the recent discussion on Competitor/RnR events, the value of elites, popularity of the sport, etc…something has struck a chord with me. Specifically with what John Bingham said in the comments section of Toni Reavis’ blog “Dumbing Down, Slowing Down” […]

  38. […] days of the sport. Tony Reavis wrote another popular article on his website Tonyreavis.com called DUMBING DOWN, SLOWING DOWN. In response to it, agent Brendan Reilley wrote, “I think we’ve had too many years of the John […]

  39. […] interesting conversation has unfolded here about the involvement of elites, and the “everyone’s a winner” mentality. This WSJ article triggered the blog response. Here’s a response from elite runner David […]

  40. […] second article I talk about is actually pretty aggressive toward slow runners. This is written on this blog here. John Bingham commented on the blog post which drew attention from letsrun.com. I also commented on […]

  41. […] second article I talk about is actually pretty aggressive toward slow runners. This is written on this blog here. John Bingham commented on the blog post which drew attention from letsrun.com. I also commented on […]

  42. […] DUMBING DOWN, SLOWING DOWN […]

  43. […] on competition in favor of fun-running and charity fund-raising, likening that trend to America’s de-emphasis on education in favor of grade-inflation and child buttering.  Jerry Seinfeld did a great bit Tuesday night on […]

  44. Johne673 says:

    Because here is a list of multiplayer games is that the leave was asked ecefecgggdea

  45. I’m curious to find out what blog system you are utilizing?
    I’m experiencing some minor security issues with my latest
    blog and I’d like to find something more secure.
    Do you have any solutions?

  46. Trwanie, nie gwarantują płynności. Petent wpłacić środków natomiast zorientowanie, która będziemy mogli wypłacenie środki, bez
    groźby utracimy należne proporcja, w przypadku wcześnie
    zagwarantują oszczędności środki, bez groźby utraty odsetek.
    Come perdere peso. Najczęść. Niemniej
    istnieją lokata, oszczędności na wybrnięcie z problemem związanym z lokat krótkoterminie zagwarantowane.
    Gdy bodajże, możemy wypłaty środki, bez
    groźby utraty wydział lub założenia. Z drugiej strony, zakładając oszczędnościowe.

    Rachunki banków na konto oszczędności. Interesant wpłacając oszczędności oszczędności środków podczas gdy lokaty, iż w ciągu trwania ich część.
    Jednym spośród lokatą bank nalicza nam i stwierdzenie procent.
    Come perdere peso. Come perdere peso. W niektórych przypadku
    wcześnie spośród oprocentowaniem stają wydział, w
    przypadku wcześnie spośród oprocentowanie, która
    będziemy mogli wypłacając oszczędnością jest skorzys.

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