Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Runner, a Jogger and a Penguin Walk into a Bar

Hopefully, you read my earlier blog about "Penguin Pride!" where I talked about identifying with John Bingham's depiction of a slow runner as a penguin who "waddles on." 

While I was writing that blog, I found a reference to a study that showed the "perfect pace" (using minimal oxygen intake to cover distance) was a 7:13 mile for men and a 9:08 pace for women.  ( I have even been known to crank it up to a 7:30 during speed work for very, very...did I say very? short periods of time...a consistent 9:08 pace is well beyond my reach. So, a penguin I am and a penguin I will stay.)

Now, the question becomes whether or not I'm a runner.  While I embraced the penguin label pretty quickly, it took me a while to take on the "runner" label.  After all, if you read my very first blog, I knew right away that I was a back of the packer.  

Debates rage over what makes a runner versus a jogger.  In fact, one of my favorite running companies, One More Mile (OMM) took on this question on their Facebook page on April 25.  (You can read more about OMM on other blog posts here and here.)
And, while I've read some scathing remarks on other sites from fast runners who disdain those of us who run at the back of the pack (keep reading for more on that), most runners recognize the importance of getting out there and doing it rather than just sitting around.

A fellow (very fast) River Runner said, "Without you, there wouldn't be a front of the pack."  

And, my very wise neighbor and friend, posted this in response to the OMM question: 

"Jog, Run - both three letter words... anyone looking to quibble over the term is probably doing so from their car, their couch, or their porch as I go by. At the end of the day, I was out in the fresh air, setting a good example for my kids, working through my frustrations, my anxiety or my fear. Enjoying the gift of the day, and the health with which have have to jog/run. With each footfall becoming a better wife, mom, friend, sister, aunt, neighbor and employee."

In the end, I don't think it matters if someone is a jogger, a runner or a penguin.  What matters is that we're out there placing one foot in front of the other, no matter how fast we go. 

But, as I said, not everyone agrees.

I first learned this when I thought about being a charity runner for the Boston Marathon.  This was way before the tragic bombing occurred; it was as I was trying to determine what to do to make myself feel better about turning 50.  (I've been dreading the big 5-0 ever since I turned the not as big 4-0.) 

Once, the Boston Athletic Association raised the qualifying standards in 2011 due to unprecedented interest in the race, I knew it was a pipe dream to actually qualify.  After all, only 10 percent of marathoners will "BQ" (Boston Qualify.)  But, I had been inspired by Team Hoyt--originally consisting of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, who gained notoriety from having Dick push Rick in a wheelchair. And, I found out they typically received Boston Marathon entry spots for runners who wouldn't otherwise qualify.  The selected runners have to go through an application process and then raise $5,000 or more.

So, I became very excited about qualifying to run for charity.  After all, interest in running marathons has increased dramatically because of a "second boom" of interest in running overall.  According to Running USA, the number of marathon finishers has increased from 25,000 in 1976 to more than 518,000 in 2011.  And much of that interest is due to charities.  

Home page of the London Marathon
The London Marathon in 1993 was the first one to give entry to those running for charity dollars.  Today, it bills itself as the "largest annual fundraising event on the planet" that raises the equivalent of almost $8 million dollars.  Each time it's held.  In a single day. Apparently, more people run this race for charity than not--so much so, that there is a prominent link for charity runners on the home page. 

While I couldn't find aggregate numbers, I did find information about how much money has been raised for some of the larger charity running organizations.
  • Team in Training (TNT) which raises funds for leukemia and lymphoma research has celebrated 25 years of fundraising resulting in raising more than $1.3 billion. That's billion with a B.  It began in 1988 when a dad organized a group of 38 runners to raise $322,000 in honor of his daughter who survived leukemia.
  • Susan G. Komen has raised more than $120 million over the past 19 years for breast cancer research. 
  • Wounded Warrior Program offers many ways to support the organization, including running in 8K and Tough Mudder runs (in which Tough Mudder runners have raised $5 million for the Wounded Warriors in the past several years alone.)
Most races--from 5K's to marathons--seem to support some local charity in addition to the national ones.  And, then, there are those who run to create awareness of their cause or charity.
Like the man who ran blindfolded to raise money for the National Braille Press. 

Or the "jogglers" who run and juggle at the same time, often earning money for their preferred charity. 

Recently, at the Pittsburgh marathon, one of the vendors had a sign that said he planned to start last and would donate $1 to Boston One Fund for each runner he passed.  (Unfortunately, I didn't note the vendor or find out the results.)

Even North Korea has gotten into the act and recently held its first ever charity run.  (Yes, really.)  

All this sounds great, right?

Not so fast (pun intended), some faster runners said. 

As John Bingham who raises funds for TNT, said in a Runner's World article:

"...I've heard some people speak negatively about so-called charity runners. I've heard people say that they aren't really runners, they're dumbing down the sport, and they're taking spots that should go to 'legitimate' competitors. But I've never heard those complaints from the parent of a child who is alive today because of a new treatment paid for with funds raised by a charity."

Wow, here I was thinking I was doing something good--moving my body AND raising funds for a good cause and there are people who would mock me for that. 

In fact, a NY TIMES article entitled, "Plodders Have a Place, But is it a Marathon?" shared this point of view:

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

No kick in the pants there, right?

Apparently, while back of the packers celebrate that they get the same medal as those who finish much faster, other runners have disdain for that as well as the slowing of the overall marathon finish time.  USA Running reports the average finish time for men in 1980 was 3:32 compared to 4:16 in 2011; for women, the time dropped from 4:03 in 1980 to 4:42 in 2011.

As reported in the NY Times, "Plodder" article, “If you’re wearing a marathon T-shirt, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” Given [a PR exec and marathon runner] said on the eve of this month’s Baltimore Marathon, where vendors were selling products that celebrate slower runners. One sticker said: “I’m slow. I know. Get over it.”   (Hmmmm....I think I know where that person got the sticker....One More Mile!")

But, I have to ask....Why not celebrate the slower runner?  The jogger?  The penguin?

As you could expect, John Bingham agrees. From the same NY Times article:

"John Bingham, a runner who is known as the Penguin, is often credited with starting the slow-running movement, in the 1990s. 'I have had people say that I’ve ruined the sport of running, but what I’ve been trying to do is promote the activity of running to an entire generation of people,' he said. 'What’s wrong with that?'

Bingham added: 'The complainers are just a bunch of ornery, grumpy people who want the marathon all to themselves and don’t want the slower runners. But too bad. The sport is fueled and funded by people like me.' "

I totally agree.  I will continue to run, jog, walk and waddle my way through these races--regardless of what anyone else might think.  I'd also like to think--as the title of this post suggests--that if a runner, a jogger and a penguin walk into a bar, they could all have a beer and celebrate their mutual accomplishments.

Let me know what you think, especially if you agree with me! (LOL!)

Catch you again at the back of the pack!


  1. Fortunately, in my experience, the grumps sneering at the slower runners are rare. I am a new runner and definitely back-of-the-pack, but I have been warmly welcomed by pretty much everybody. Locally, many of the fastest runners that you see winning all of the area races, plus traveling off to compete in Boston and New York and even doing ultramarathons - they are also leading running clubs that welcome all paces. They want others to find the joy they have found. 99% of the running community is awesome.

  2. I totally agree! In fact, I think I was so surprised at some of these comments because my experience with runners of all abilities has been very positive.

  3. as far as I'm concerned, anyone who consistently gets out there and puts one foot in front of the other is a runner. I'm actually shocked at the comments of some of the more "elite" runners criticizing slower runners. It's not like a slower runner is changing the way they run one iota. While I've met a great community of people through running, how fast or slow I go is usually a personal decision.

    I know some pretty fast and accomplished runners and while it's clear I'm not on their level, they've always been very complimentary and encouraging. I don't have time for elitist snob runners who would criticize anyone slower than themselves. Those type of people seem incredibly shallow and narcissistic.

  4. PJ--I am with you on the whoever is putting one foot in front of the other.... I was shocked to find out there were runners who would even admit to thinking so negatively about slower runners. The ONLY time I could imagine it being a problem is when a slower runner starts in a corral that's too fast for them and then holds up faster runners. Or, I do always feel sorry for the fast marathoners who have to weave their way through slow half marathoners as they near the end. But, as long as slow runners are being conscious of letting faster runners go by, what's the problem? I don't see it!

  5. I'm with Linda. As long as I start in the appropriate (way in the back) corral and stay out of the way of the faster runners, why should anyone care about my pace? It's not like I'm dive tackling them as they try to pass me. Back when I used to play soccer, I never disparaged the players who were a bit less-than-gifted. Why is running any different? The goal should be to get people out there and participating!

    1. Your comment about dive tackling them made me laugh! Thanks for the chuckle.

  6. As others have said, the majority of other runners I've met are welcoming and encouraging. There are a few elitist snobs here and there, but they're generally the kind of people who are elitist snobs about everything. Now, don't get me started on cyclists... :D (Kidding!)

    1. LOL, Kate! I just had a student (I teach college) ask if I wanted to become a "reformed runner" and join his cycling group!

  7. Finishing a marathon is a big deal!

    It's interesting the double standard that there is. The Hoyt's, they are applauded for meeting the challenge (and for good reason!). I live on the BM route and love to see them run each year. And yet, charity runners are some how "in the way." It's stupid.

    Here's where I am at. I suffered congestive heart failure at 53-years-old (2 years ago). It got my attention. I had 3 surgeries, I lost 70+ pounds, and I am training for my first marathon. Currently I am at a 10:12 pace. If I have to run Boston as a bandit, count on seeing me there 2014!

    1. Good for you, ICU! I hope to be there in 2014 running for Team Hoyt or as a volunteer, although apparently, both of those things are going to be tough to get. Maybe I'll join you as a bandit! :)

  8. Thank you! I struggle with this myself...
    LOVE LOVE your blog!

    1. Too funny....I'm not sure I consider myself an athlete, but I do now consider myself a runner!!

  9. We agree! While running wouldn't be very exciting without the "superstars", it also wouldn't be where it is today without the back-of-the-packers. Its fun to celebrate those who are breaking records and amazing us with fast times, but running is so much more than that. It is equally as important to celebrate those who are out giving it there best even though there is no prize money waiting for them at the end. Those people are inspiring countless others to get out and get active- and we think that's the most important thing- encouraging others to get involved in an activity that promotes health and a good work ethic.

  10. So true! But, also if there was no back of the pack, all those friends and family members who are there to cheer them/us on wouldn't be there!! The whole events would be over way too quickly, wouldn't they? LOL!

  11. I'm a slow runner too, and I've got all John (The Penguin) Bingham's books. Because of him I feel that I am a runner, even though I'm not very fast.

    I definitely don't like the snobby attitude from fast runners who look down on slow runners…