Over the weekend, Timothy Olson won the Western States 100 -- that's a 100-mile run -- in a record time of just under 15 hours. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon, Galen Rupp, maybe the fastest non-African in the world, cruised to a win in the 10,000m. When he runs in London, he will be a legitimate contender to win America's first medal in the event since 1964. Shalane Flanagan finished third in the women's race, days after running a marathon (just for training) -- and she won't even be competing in the 10,000m at the Summer Games.
On the same weekend that happened, sports writer and bandana-wearing enthusiast Jeff Pearlman wrote America has "fattened up and lazied up as a nation."
And that was just in the span of 48 hours, and doesn't even mention what Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi have done in marathons the past few years. There's an argument to be made that America is currently in its best era of distance running ever. Maybe I just made that argument?
So why does Pearlman think we're all lazy clownfraud runners? All because of the 5k.
"The 5k is a wimpy race for a fat, 'feeling of accomplishment'-driven nation," he tweeted Monday morning. His tweet included a link to this post on his blog, a post about how much he hates the 5k. I think there are many things wrong with this post. So let's talk about them.
First off, congratulations to Pearlman on running a 5k. Sincerely. I am of the mindset that completing a race of any distance is a worthy accomplishment. At the absolute very least, you have to wake up early on a weekend and perform physical activity. So that's something! Pearlman doesn't agree, because the 5k is too short, and "boy oh boy things sure were different when I was a kid," I guess?
Back when I was a kid, growing up on the mean streets of Mahopac, N.Y., my folks would take me to regular weekend races. There was the Lincoln Hall Five Mile Run, which started and ended at a reform school. There was the Titicus Reservoir Seven Mile Classic. There was the North County News Mini-Marathon, the Dunkin Donuts Four Miler (this one was especially quirky-one ran two miles to the Mt. Kisco Dunkin Donuts, picked up a donut in a bag from a table, then ran back), the Lake Mahopac Father Mooney 8 Miler, the Jan Peek 10k. Literally, every year I'd run dozens of races-none shorter than four miles.
Pearlman is very correct in pointing out that a 5k is shorter than a four-miler, 10k, and even an 8-miler. The easy criticism here is to point out that if Pearlman hates the 5k distance, why would he sign up for one? It's a good question. But his argument, seemingly, is that AMERICA no longer offers many races that are longer than 3.1 miles ("OBAMACARE!"). Since he ran the New York Giants Run of Champions 5k, which takes place at the Meadowlands (gorgeous place for a run, by the way), I'm going to assume Pearlman lives in or near New York City, and point out that there are many many many many races longer than a 5k in the area.
So why did he run a 5k if he hates them so much? i don't know. He later writes, "I'm old, my back in aching and I'm not in especially great shape." So maybe he can only manage a 5k? BUT THEN he says "the joy of road racing (at least for me) is in the challenge; is in doing something that takes work and effort and fitness." Ugh. Which is it, Jeff?? Oh, also, during this, he manages to not-so-casually slip in his 7:00/mile pace.
But let's get to what I really dislike about Pearlman's post, which, interestingly, is everything I love about running.
Pearlman writes that "races have changed-for the worse ... The 5k has taken over the landscape, and while running is running and exercise is exercise, pretty any ol' schlub can run three miles."
Exactly! Pretty much any ol' schlub can run three miles. Why? Because there are so many three-mile races that exist now. Running and physical activity is becoming more and more popular. This is very good thing!
Pearlman added a note at the beginning of his post, i'm assuming after everyone made fun of him on Twitter, saying it was "not the message I want to present."
Running is great-all distances. And for many the 5k is a wonderful accomplishment, as it should be. I just hate how so many running groups have killed off longer races, knowing they can get more people to do 5ks. There should be a place for both.
Maybe his running groups are different, I don't know, but as I already pointed out, there are still lots and lots of races longer than 5k. Look at that note again -- a note he added after having lots of time to think about his original post and then re-think his stance or position.
"I just hate how so many running groups have killed off longer races, knowing they can get more people to do 5ks."
Getting more people running should never be a bad thing! Regardless of the distance. And that's where Pearlman completely misses the point of running.
I only started running four years ago. I used to hate running. I hated the idea of running. I started with a marathon, did another one a few months later (note: that was dumb), ran a couple half marathons and 10Ks and 5Ks and Turkey Trots and eventually started doing triathlons. Through it all, the thing that has struck me the most about running is how inclusive it is.
Yes, obviously a race, of any distance, is just that -- a race. But really, it's a race to the finish for a very small percentage of those entered. For the other 99%, those of us who won't win, it's a another kind of race. It's a race against past times. A race against new goals. A race against creeping mortality. A race against your friends. A race for the memory of a loved one. A race against your own personal limits. Which is why it's so supportive. Everyone's a teammate and a competitor, at the same time.
A few weeks ago, I ran on a team as part of a relay marathon (don't worry, Jeff -- I ran a bit more than six miles). It was part of the North Face Endurance Series, so the run shared parts of the course with those doing the 50-miler. More than once, I found myself passing one of them -- not a humblebrag, just expected: I was on mile four, they were on about mile 48 -- and each time, they offered encouragement.
"Looking good." "Great job, keep it up."
Runners, somewhere on their eighth hour of traipsing through the Virginia woods, exhausted, covered in mud, still took the time and effort to try and motivate me, some ol' schlub running a 10k.
It's an individual endeavor -- maybe even the loneliest sport -- but when you begin to look down at people who, God forbid, run/walk a 5k, you aren't making some social commentary about how the country is changing or whatever. You think "running is supposed to be hard." Fine. For others, completing a 5k is hard. And for many, running a 5k is exactly what makes it worthwhile to begin with.
There should be a place for both.