Friday, November 5, 2010

Are marathoners/runners athletes?

This entry is in honor of this weekend's New York Marathon.  There's a lot of news about there surrounding NYC and who will win and what celebrities are going to run.   One blog that I read yesterday discussed whether or not runners (specifically marathoners) are athletes.  It's an interesting question... Are runners/marathoners athletes?

Here's Merriam-Webster's definiton of an athlete:
Athlete: a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.

And, here's the definition of runner:
Runner: one that runs.

Lastly, the definition of a marathoner:
Marathoner: one (as a runner) who takes part in a marathon.

But, are runner and athlete the same?
By these definitions the answer is yes.  Marathons take stamina and training (at least for most people).  So they're the same thing, right?  Maybe, maybe not.

I've heard arguments both ways.  Everyone seems to agree on one thing, the elite marathoners and runners are athletes.  They push their bodies to the limit and achieve new things (shorter times, longer distances).  They do what most people can not (such as running a marathon in just over 2 hours!).

But, what about everyone else?  The still fast Boston qualifying runners.  The middle of the pack runners.  The slower runners who finish toward the back.  The very last person to cross that finish line.  Would you qualify all of those people as athletes?  Does finishing a marathon qualify you as an "athlete." 

No they aren't professional athletes, but not many people are.  No, they aren't winning, but they are finishing.  They are doing something that only a VERY small percentage (approx 1-2%) people ever do, even professional athletes might view the marathon as a daunting task.

It is HUGELY impressive to finish a marathon at all, whether you finish in under 3 hours, or it takes you 8+.  You are still putting your body through an incredible struggle.  Some people say its just a form of self-torture.  Others say its an accomplishment and you are an athlete.

I have thought about this a lot.  I am a runner/marathoner.  I, oddly enough, enjoy these ridiculously long road races.  I know that I'm NEVER going to win a marathon, or even 1/2 marathon, or probably even a shorter race (5k or 10k).  I am always happy just to finish.  And, at this point, I win when I set my own personal goals for the race and I meet or exceed them. 

A year ago I had completed just 2 10ks, very slowly (at the second one someone dressed as a 6ft+ tall Cookie Monster beat me, I won't lie, that was pretty embarassing).  Just 12 short months later, I have completed two full marathons (LA and Nike Women's) and four 1/2 marathons (Surf City, San Diego Rock 'n' Roll, San Francisco - 1st half, and Disneyland) and I have one more 1/2 that I'm set to run in just over a week (Malibu).  To me, just doing one of each is pretty damn impressive.  But, I've done 2 and 4. 

I feel like an athlete.  No, I'm not fast.  But, I am getting faster.  I am meeting and exceeding the goals that I've set for myself.  My first goal when I signed up for this "insanity" was to finish a marathon.  So, I finished a marathon.  Then I wanted to finish my next marathon faster, and I did, with an injury.  I was sorta hobbling along the final four miles, in some fairly serious pain, in my ankle, and every step hurt, I thought I was going to throw up when I crossed the finish line - I didn't, but I did cry b/c of the pain.  Lots of people would have just quite, but I didn't and finished my second marathon 22 minutes faster than my first, almost 1 minute/mile faster, with a stupid ankle that wouldn't cooperate for the final 4 miles.  Pretty impressive, if I do say so myself, and I do.

As for the 1/2's I wanted to get through the first one, I was nervous about the whole experience.  Surf City 1/2 was the first long distance race I did, and I did it alone.  So, I knew I could do at least 13.1, and I was injured there too (IT band - no this is not a trend, I stepped off a curb funny at Nike, which is how I hurt my ankle).  I had two goals after this one for my 1/2s, to run faster and run the whole thing straight through before then end of the year. 

I trained for LA and Surf City using interval training, run for x minutes, walk for 1 minute, this worked well for me at the time and helped me tackle these massive miles one little bit at a time.  So, while the intervals worked for me I wanted to get rid of them, at least for the 1/2 before the end of the year.

I figured I'd get faster and then ditch the intervals.  Problem was, I wasn't getting faster, I was slowing down, and the idea that I'd be able to run 13.1 without an interval started to seem like it was getting further and further away.  My 1/2 times were getting longer, San Diego was about 4 minutes longer than Surf City, and I wasn't injured.  Then San Francisco was like 12 minutes longer than San Diego, still not injured.  I was starting to wonder if my full marathon time was going to get faster. 

Then came Disneyland.  At Disneyland I found myself back on track, meeting my goals, and feeling like an athlete again.  I killed the Disneyland 1/2, I finished it four minutes faster than Surf City (20 minutes faster than my most recent half, SF!) and I ran the whole thing straight, no intervals (I did walk through the water stations, they were pretty crowded).  And, I finally PR'd in the half!

I still have one goal for the 1/2 that I haven't met this year, that I'm hoping to meet at Malibu next weekend.  Then I have a whole NEW set of goals for the full.  First, I want to run the full straight, no intervals.  Second, I want to improve my time.  And third, I eventually want to beat Oprah's time.  (Silly? Maybe.  But, it annoys me that she ran a marathon faster than me.)  So, hopefully I'll get to these goals this year, maybe even beat Oprah.  But, I know no matter what, I am an athlete.  Even if not everyone agrees.

To the people who think marathoners aren't athletes because they don't win the race, and more than 90% aren't trying to win the race, I have this to say to you, you try running a marathon and then tell me that marathoners aren't athletes.  We might not be professional, or super speedy, or make any money doing it (in fact, we spend money to put ourselves through this).  But, we do, for the most part, train for months, wake up early on weekend mornings for long runs, punish our bodies, work hard and celebrate the accomplishment of finishing.

To be an athlete does not mean that you have to win, or that you are even trying to win, it means you have to try, you have to get up and go for it, every single day, you have to lace up your shoes at 4am, pin on your race bib, and join thousands of other people in the cold and dark to run miles and miles and miles.  Running a marathon makes you an athlete, even if you are the last person to cross that finish line.  You are an athlete.  I am an athlete.

My final point in proving that marathoners are athletes is this: We tell children "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game."  So, our version of playing the game is getting out there and participating.  It's not about winning (unless you're an elite runner), it's about "how you play the game," and in marathoning that means having the courage to go out there and try.

What do you think?  Are all marathoners athletes?  Or are some just crazy people out there for seemingly endless hours torturing themselves?

To everyone running the New York City Marathon: Good luck!  Have fun!  Enjoy the day!  Hopefully I'll be running NYC next year (if I get in!)

1 comment:

  1. yes they are athelets because not all football teams in a leauge win the championship, only one can but that does not mean that the 17 other teams that failed are all amuters. If your training at a high rate to reach a goal only a small percent of the planet will ever do i think u can call yourself a athlete. Heck ive never played a professional sport but ive ran 2 marathons and ran it faster than an ex world champion boxer lol your an athlete untill u stop training really.