Saturday, August 6, 2011

Oprah Did What?

"Great spirits often encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds."
- Albert Einstein

The other day on Facebook (which I've previously stated I'm not crazy about), a friend of mine posted a picture of his new shirt. The shirt read "Ultrarunning, because Oprah ruined the marathon". I commented that I didn't get it. Afterall, she did run the whole 26.2 miles (in a very respectable 4:29). His only comment to defend the shirt was " I didn't have a personal chef and full time trainers and coaches". That's it? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of Oprah, though she has done a damn good job spreading her vast wealth to some very needy and destitute programs. For some reason, this form of silent hatred has twisted my chain that I had hoped most runners were immune to. How the hell did she ruin the marathon? I just don't get the animosity towards her doing something we wish everybody did. All the runners I know are kind, generous with praise, and encouraging. So, where did this come from?

Was it that she was a celebrity and we silently wish all celebrities to fall flat on their faces? But she didn't just write a check. She was up in the dark of the morning, like us, pounding the pavement when I'm sure she wasn't crazy about it. She ran Marine Corps in November, so I'm sure she trained in the heat, like us. She trained with others, she trained alone, like us. She did the training. She obviously held down a very busy day job. How did she ruin the marathon? She had lost a ton of weight and wanted to do something she never thought she could do. When we ran our first marathon, we all wanted to do something we never thought we could.

Lance Armstrong - did he ruin the marathon? I'm sure he had a personal chef and a gaggle of trainers. Plus he had celebrity pacers with him the whole 26 miles when he ran New York. Sure, I was hoping he wouldn't break 3 hours, but that was the same ill will I wish on the Yankees - I hope they lose, but they probably won't. But when he did come in at 2:59, it never crossed my mind that he ruined the marathon. He was just better than I wanted him to be.

How 'bout Jeff Galloway? He preached heresy by advocating walking DURING the marathon...good God!! Say it ain't so!! I began running marathons in 1979 and you only walked when you had to (usually sometime in EVERY marathon for me), but when he came out with the run/walk programs, he didn't ruin the marathon. He opened a whole new world to semi-couch potatoes, that saw they might be able to do this unattainable goal. No "Jeff Galloway ruined the marathon" shirts for him.

John Bingham? Now, I never read where anybody said HE ruined the marathon. The Penguin didn't even want you to do the best you could do. He just cared that you finished in front of the balloon lady or the sag wagon and had a good time doing it. It has absolutely no effect on runners finishing 3 hours ahead of him.

When I began training marathoners for Team-in-Training in 1995, I was sure this group of non-runners wouldn't be able to do the training, nevermind finish the whole daggum thing. Most of the participants came in with a backround of "Well, I did a 3 mile mini-marathon last year". I had been training seasoned runners to do the old Vulcan Marathon for 11 years when I joined TNT. You know what? They did super. They followed the tailored training program to a "T", and finish they did. I was more amazed then they were. Through the years, there have been many barbs thrown towards slower runners "dumbing down" the sanctity of the marathon, but these are mostly by crotchety veteran marathoners. This gets my blood a-boilin' too, but here's my take on that - Those complaining about the slower folks feel much less significant about themselves when the slower runners at the end of the marathon cross the finish line, because they’re forced to face the fact that most anyone that sticks to a 20 week program can do it. It’s not the exclusive, life achievement they made it out to be. They’re forced to face the fact that it really doesn’t take a lifetime of dedication – only a few months of consistently following a plan. They can no longer brag to anyone who will listen about the immense amount of dedication it took, or the endless hours of running 8 days a week, or what an elite club they just joined, since the non-athletic, non-running, not-so-in-shape person who followed a canned, off-the-shelf training plan just finished the same race they did. As soon as they realize that someone with no athletic backround can finish the marathon they trained years for, with about 20 weeks of training, bye bye feeling significant about what they just accomplished. Put simply, they lost their feeling of being special when they discovered that anyone can do what they just did.

The facts are that Oprah ran a 4:29 marathon in a driving rainstorm in 1994 after losing a lot of weight, and 17 years later there is a shirt that she RUINED the marathon. I just don't think Oprah's getting a fair shake. I don't think it's any coincidence that the big surge in registered marathon entrants has come primarily from the slower ranks and from females. I don't know if I'd go as far as to say she caused the surge on her own, but the fact that she did it made a lot of these people suddenly realize that they could finish a marathon. They decided to give it a go.

What's ironic is that, despite some folks thinking she ruined the marathon, there is another, hopefully larger, faction that because Oprah is an icon for many people, both male and female, her marathon time has become a new goal for many instead of a more challenging BQ (Boston Qualifying) time..."Hey, I beat Oprah!".

I'm proud of all who lace up their running (or walking) shoes and set out to achieve any kind of fitness goal whatsoever! I must admit that I admire anyone who has the courage to get started, stick with it and run the race...whatever that race may be! If more of us Americans would commit ourselves to exercise - marathon, or not - as a society we would go a long way toward preventing some of the diseases (obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, etc.) that are killing us in droves. If Oprah had something to do with this, then she certainly didn't ruin anything.

Ok guys, that's the rant for this week. Hope you all stay cool this weekend, and I'm glad you are all out there. I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"


Liz Goncy said...

Thanks for writing this Al! This reminds me that what I did was meaningful and did require a lot of work. I am also glad to know that people, like you, route for the people, like me, who struggled. It's amazing what 20 weeks can do. I'm gonna miss the running group - as I move to Richmond in a few weeks, but I'm glad to know that I was part of the Bham crowd.

Al D. said...

Great to hear from you Liz and thanks for the kind words. When you struggle for something, it means a lot more, but remember, there many folks cheering you on. Good luck in Richmond and please keep in touch - AL