It’s no secret that I’m a slow runner. I don’t try to hide my pace, and it’s very rare that I get awkward about telling people my finish times. Who cares, right? When I line up to start a race, I know I’ve trained my hardest and I’m going to do the best that the conditions and my body will allow. My fast friends come to me for advice on racing and the techniques of running, while I go to them for speedwork and pep talks. It’s a very symbiotic relationship. And then we all cross the finish line together. Not together, together, but you know what I mean.
Apparently someone does care how fast I cross the finish. No, not my dad, but a Mr. Kevin Helliker, a writer for the Wall Street Journal. His article, “The Slowest Generation,” laments the death of speedy distance runners in the United States. Helliker, a racer himself, does a humble brag about his finish in the 2013 Chicago Triathlon. He finished in the top 15% of his age group of 50-54 (or the “grandpa” group as he called it), but the top 11% overall. Most people would be happy with that type of finish, but instead of basking in the glory of a great race, he chooses instead to segue into a diatribe about how my generation has ceased to compete, but rather chooses to participate, citing races such as The Color Run. If you expect a race that involves getting covered in colored corn starch to be a sprint to the finish…I don’t even know what to tell you.
Some may attribute that to the upswing of the number of people participating in races to develop better personal fitness, but in Helliker’s mind it’s due to the fact that my generation just doesn’t care about winning. Not only do we not care about winning races, but we apparently don’t care about anything. Helliker quotes running commentator and blogger Toni Reavis as saying “This is emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness, and should be of concern to us all.” My first thought? Perhaps if past generations weren’t so concerned with winning and being the best, we wouldn’t be in the current economic state that we’re in now. Just a thought, though.
Perhaps what bothers me the most about Helliker’s point of view is that he seems to think if you’re not fast, you’re not trying. Unless you have a deal with the devil, there will always be someone faster than you. Fast is a relative term. While there’s no way I’m going to stand on top of the medal podium at any race, there’s no telling how much I can PR by if I continue to work on my speed and endurance. And where does the “fast” and “slow” cutoffs occur? By his own admission, Helliker finished in the top 11%. Why not the top 10%? He must have not tried as hard as the people ahead of him.
Yes, there are people who compete in races just to grab that finishers medal at the end and brag on Facebook about how awesome they are for being a half-marathoner. But there are those of us who work for months hoping to shave 3.7 seconds off of our back of the pack time. And then brag on Facebook about it. And wear my finishers medal to the bar so I can tell people how I shaved 3.7 seconds off of my PR.