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Not an athlete? We're going to have a problem here


As an "entrant" in Ironman France

With the fall marathons coming to a close with New York on Sunday, I've been subjected to the constantly heated debate about who exactly should be allowed to participate in endurance sports of all kinds, punctuated with the October 22 article in the New York Times titled, "Plodders have a place, but in the marathon?"  I've seen my share of slowtwitch posts asking whether anyone who finished any Ironman other than Kona is an Ironman.  And, I've seen the posts that throw The Biggest Loser's Matt Hoover under the bus for finishing three minutes after the official finish time.  These posts say that maybe these people can race with us (how kind!) but we should call them "entrants" or "participants" instead of "athletes" or "qualifiers". 

I'm a big believer in training hard, racing hard, and doing your best.  I constantly strive to be better and faster, and intend to fight the idea that at age 42 I need to get slower.  I believe that athletes should train for events and make sure they can complete the course in the allotted time.  But, these debates aren't talking about the folks who just show up on race day untrained, using all the race's resources to get them to the finish line.  These people are talking about the "athletes" we all know and are. In fact,  the NYT article cites the 11 minute per mile marathoner.  This is clearly within most marathon time allotments.  Some triathlon forums say if you haven't finished under 11 hours, you can't call yourself an Ironman.  Seriously? 140.6 miles?  Under 17 hours?  

I'm starting to believe this is an affront on all of us.  I have had some great races and some terrible ones.  I've finished first and have finished last.  I don't think I was an "athlete" in some and just a mere "entrant" in others.  I have coached a Vietnam Veteran and cancer survivor to finish two marathons and triathlons.   That doesn't count? Not an athlete?  I have seen the sheer joy on a young woman's face who didn't break any Ironman records, but changed her life forever by realizing that anything was possible.  Is there seriously anyone in our community who thinks she can't call herself an Ironman? 

For whatever reason, as more and more people begin to participate in endurance sports of all kinds, we feel some sort of pressure to keep our sport "elite".   Eight years ago, I was cool because I'd raced an Ironman.  Now, I could count at least forty of my friends who have crossed that finish line.  Competition is a natural part of what we do - and I guess it makes us feel better about ourselves to picture ourselves as better than anyone we finished in front of.  But, really, to say that someone isn't an Ironman because they didn't race Kona, or not a marathon finisher because it took them six hours?  Come on.

If you haven't looked around our country, take one more good look.   We are fat.  We are unhealthy.   Participating in endurance sports (and welcoming new athletes into our family) is a route to a healthy, active lifestyle.   Maybe that doesn't mean everyone has to do an Ironman or marathon, but seriously, the athlete who finished a marathon in seven hours still beat the person who sat on the couch that Sunday.  As endurance athletes, we need to be elite by being living examples of health.  We do nothing good by ridiculing slower athletes.   If you train, and you make the cutoffs, you're good in my book. 

And Matt Hoover who missed the cutoff?  Yeah, he's good in my book too.  A guy who lost more than 150 pounds,  carries nearly double my weight and can cover 140.6 man-powered miles in one day (much less 17:03) is a stud.  Take that haters!

It's time to stay on the right side of a good thing here.  More people moving (no matter how fast) means more healthy people.  Let's stop debating it and be thrilled that hundreds of thousands of people are moving.  Those people are increasing our numbers, helping companies provide more, better technical products to us cheaper.  Those people are helping us make laws that make cycling safer.  Those people are helping you find a marathon any weekend in the U.S.   Together, all of us, fast and slow,  are a movement to be a healthier, fitter, happier country.  It's time we all stopped the silly debating - and actually went to inspire someone (yes, someone slow and unfit) to go outside for a walk, run or ride.  The more athletes the better. 

Oh, and by the way, I've never gone to Kona, never broken 11 hours, and never run under 3 hours in a marathon - and we're going to have a problem if you don't count every mile.


  • Kevin 5 years ago

    Enjoyed the article!! I agree with everything you say as it's all based on perspective. As a competitor of numerous sprint, olympic & 70.3 tri's plus a vast number of run funs, half & full marathons I considered myself as a "lifestyler" rather than an "athlete". I aim to be competing at 65+ (currently in my mid-30's) as opposed to winning my age-group...but I feel as dedicated as any althete.

    However, I would dread the possibility of bonking or getting an injury during an event as it could happened to anyone. But giving up is just as bad as not starting. So these people who believe others are not "Ironman" must have been fortunate in not experiencing this scenario. The tenacity of the human spirit to never give up must equate to the realm of Ironman status??

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