THE BLOG

The Slowest Generation, or the Healthiest?

Oct 11, 2013 | Updated Dec 11, 2013

Kevin Helliker's recent Wall Street Journal article, "The Slowest Generation," is making the rounds in the running community. If you haven't had a chance to read it, you should. Basically, Mr. Helliker is stating that today's recreational running events are symbolic of our younger generation's lack of competitiveness and acceptance of mediocrity.

Competitive Running

I am a Masters runner in the 40-49 age group. That means I'm one of the old guys now. You might think that means I can run a bit slower or that my age group standards may have dropped a bit since I was in my 30s. Not so. My age group consistently outperforms in terms of top 10 percent finishers. For the most part, the guys that are running at this age are serious about their sport. The same can be said for the 50-59 age group.

I have no trouble finding competitive races. I don't enter Color Runs or Obstacle Course races because that's not my thing. If others want to have fun getting off the couch and joining their friends for an activity that promotes good health and fitness, that is fantastic. I support them 100 percent. Our nation needs to promote good health; we're in trouble right now.

The recent decision by CGI to stop paying appearance fees to the elite athletes is a good one. The elite represent a tiny fraction of the running community, and these races are marketed to the masses. I ran the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half Marathon last June. In that race, Kenyan runner Bernard Koech ran the fastest time ever on American soil -- 58:41. That's a ridiculous 4:28 per mile pace! The reaction from the crowd inside Petco Park during the awards was a golf clap and a shake of the head. Conversation quickly shifted back to more relevant topics: beer, music and the crazy lady dancing on the Jumbotron.

My point is this: Every runner can choose to be competitive or not. I ran a PR that day. Some of my friends were happy just to be in the race. Bernard Koech ran faster than any other person in the United States -- ever. Same race, different people.

Everyone Is a Winner

Race medals and awards are a big part of what motivates runners to participate in races. The swag bag and the medals of the R'n'R series are crucial to their success and widespread popularity. It is very rare to find a race longer than 10 miles that doesn't include a finisher's medal.

My "old school" opinion is that a medal for everyone diminishes the capacity for races to truly reward the overall and age group winners. There is a growing trend in racing to only reward the top male and female finishers and give medals to everyone else. That stings a bit when you're a top 10 finisher and an age group winner, and yet you walk away with the same medal that every other participant received.

However, I also appreciate the fact that everyone is rewarded with a medal because it motivates new runners to join the sport and encourages everyone to continue running and living a healthy lifestyle. I know for certain that many of my friends would not have pushed themselves to change their bad habits and train for races were it not for the promise of bling, a race T-shirt and a photo at the finish.

Slowest Generation

Records keep breaking and new running talent pops up all over the United States every week. I don't think this generation is the slowest generation. I think more of them are running and we now have a huge spread between the elite and the recreational runners. That is a good thing.

In 1990, there were about 4.8 million finishers in running events. In 2012, that number increased to about 15.5 Million finishers. -- RunningUSA

Is this generation full of slackers and hipsters? No. I think we have a generation that recognizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Being a competitive runner is not the healthiest of approaches to running. Running for fitness only requires that you run a few miles at a moderate pace, a few days each week.

It appears that most people can get maximum health benefits with relatively low amounts of exercise, and that's comforting... -- Dr.Carl Lavie

Runners can find competition, camaraderie, or fun. We are fortunate that there are so many races and race formats to choose from. Instead of complaining, let's just pick the races that we enjoy running and let others choose theirs. On race day, run your race. Nobody is holding you back, but you.

This article was originally posted at saltmarshrunning.com

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