Warning: this may very well be an "unpopular opinion" post. It's also Thinking Out Loud Thursday, so it's not the most structured post - just a mish-mash of some of the thoughts that have popped into my head as my first marathon creeps ever closer. I'm not against people of all ability levels participating in events, but it's about selecting the event that is RIGHT for you, not just something flashy that happens to be popular but isn't actually a good fit.
I'm talking about races with limited entry numbers. Lotteries and qualifiers that receive HUGE numbers of applicants trying to register, but are forced to refuse entry to many runners simply because the course cannot accommodate. These races usually take place in large cities, like New York or DC - and of course I'm mostly going to focus on the Marine Corps Marathon because that's the one for which I have the most firsthand knowledge.
MCM has two time cutoffs on the course. If runners do not complete the section of the course prior to The Gauntlet at mile 15 or the 14th Street Bridge at mile 18 (called "Beating the Bridge" and formerly at mile 20) in the allotted amount of time, they are swept from the course and are not allowed to finish with an official time. Runners need to maintain a pace of 14 minutes per mile to stay "alive" on the course. MCM also has a limited registration field, and there are thousands of participants each year who are unable to compete because of the overwhelming number of registrants.
My question here is, how many people are entering the MCM lottery system with hopes to register knowing they cannot uphold the 14 minute pace requirement? And a follow up, how many of those people actually receive spots in the race that are essentially nullified by their inability to finish?
This is on my mind because I know there are many people who would love to participate in this event, but cannot because of the many people attempting to enter - but these people are far faster than I, and would certainly complete the course in the allotted time. Conversely, there are many people who are well aware they will not likely make the cutoff who are posting on Facebook and other social media about getting in via the lottery. I've even seen some people say things like "this will be my third attempt, I have yet to complete the course but hoping to move faster this year!" This is a person who knows they will not likely finish the marathon, who hasn't finished before, who is posting exactly nothing about any kind of training to make it appear like they're trying harder, and who is taking one of those spots another runner could have won.
Last year, I wrote a response to a quote from running great Steve Jones that claimed he doesn't "believe starting and finishing a marathon makes you a marathoner." In my response I defended the slower runners, the people running to beat themselves instead of running to win the race. Everyone who completes a marathon IS A MARATHONER. That's not the argument I'm trying to make here, and I will never, ever belittle a person's incredible accomplishment. My problem right now is, sure you want to finish a marathon at your pace, but why not find a marathon that doesn't have cutoffs? Why take a highly coveted spot just because it's a higher profile race, instead of choosing an event that will actually accommodate you? If you can't Beat the Bridge, you can't finish the Marine Corps Marathon, which means you will NOT be a marathoner!
Many many marathons will accommodate any pace. There may not always be tons of course support if you're finishing in six hours or more, but you'll still be allowed to finish. Someone will give you a medal and a time and put you in the results so you actually CAN be a marathoner. I wouldn't do MCM if I didn't honestly believe I could complete it. And I wouldn't feel right attempting it, being rerouted because I didn't Beat the Bridge, not receiving an official finish time - and then saying I did the Marine Corps Marathon. Maybe some of these people don't mind fudging the truth a bit when they don't make the cutoff. Maybe they still claim they finished, and that's on their conscience. If you want to do a marathon, yes please do it!!! But, let's find you one you can actually DO, eh? Don't you want the accomplishment to be true and meaningful?
A marathon is a serious undertaking. Finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment (no matter what pace). There are plenty of opportunities to earn the accolades, though. Let's save the time limit courses for the people who can reasonably expect to finish within the restraints. Everyone has bad days and DNFs, but if you know you're going to be walking something like the MCM at a slow pace, maybe it isn't the right race for you.
So there's my rambling about marathons with time cutoffs and the people who attempt them with more than a reasonable doubt about their chances of success. Again, I believe everyone who can cover 26.2 miles safely can be a marathoner! But you should be able to do it on your terms, and a time limit race isn't always the best place for that. If my Thinking Out Loud hasn't dissuaded you from checking out what other bloggers are thinking about, head over to linkup host Running with Spoons to read more recent randomness from the blogsphere!
What do you think - is it a bad idea for someone to register for a race they know they won't be able to finish, when there's a limited number of spots available? How do you feel about people who don't actually complete courses but still claim to be a finisher? Any suggestions for great races with no time limit?