Running in America

Peter Hessler has a fascinating article about American distance runners in The New Yorker this month. “Running to Beijing” focuses on Ryan Hall, a marathoner from California, but the part I enjoyed the most was this description of American marathons:

Marathoning may be the only sport in which sponsors target the losers, and the losers pay for the winners. That’s how the running boom played out for the Kenyans and the Ethiopians: it created a lot of slow, rich American marathoners willing to pay big money to get beat.

Oh, the irony.

The article also mentions Dathan Ritzenhein, who ran for Rockford High School just down the street from Grand Rapids. I had the pleasure of watching him run as a high school student and demolish the competition. Both Ritzenhein and Hall will be running for the USA in the men’s marathon this Sunday.

On a personal note, I ran my first marathon back in 2000. Then, out of sheer stubbornness, I ran two more in 2001. The third and final one, the Philadelphia Marathon, was my best. I crossed the finish line somewhere around 3 hours and 30 minutes. In other words, I was a slow, rich American willing to pay big money to get beat. If the race had been 19 miles, however, I would have done a lot better. Up to that point, I was averaging 7:15 per mile. Then I fell apart.

Last month I started running again after six and a half years off (during which karate was my main source of exercise). Now I can’t run four miles at any better than 8:30 pace. Such is the toll of aging. Still, it’s more than a little heartening to see swimmers and marathoners who are in their late 30s and early 40s.

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3 Responses to Running in America

  1. Dad says:

    “Sponsors target the losers”? I’m clueless about any distance running, much less marathons, so maybe you could explain that one to me.
    I’m very proud of you for starting to run again, because I’m pretty sure it’s good for you in that it promotes your fitness. One of these days, you’ll look behind you and see Ben or Lucy overtaking you as you run.

  2. Andrew DeBoer says:

    I presume the writer means that all of the entrants pay a fee to enter the race and this translates into winnings for the few winners, who usually are not local people. The organizers of the event advertise it – sell it – to the local people, but they probably don’t have to sell it so much to the people who have the best shot at winning.

    I wonder if there are any events that have a residency requirement or at least a division for local entrants. I don’t think many entrants have illusions about beating a skinny dude from Kenya, but I think it would be nice to know that you were on a slightly more level playing field.

  3. Josh says:

    I ran against Dathan back in high school. We were neck and neck for the first 20 meters.

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