Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Oprah Line

Coming off the high of my PR (and the fact that I ran faster than Oprah -- by just seconds, but still), I came across this 2007 Salon article on the topic of the Oprah Line.  The article was written by someone whom I suspect is/was a legit speedster; in article, he argues that the Oprah standard diminishes the accomplishments of "real" marathoners who run marathons to win.  (It's funny -- he's talking about a running boom in 2007, but this could have just as easily been written in the last three or so years.)
When Oprah expanded the sport, she also lowered the bar for excellence. For the previous generation of marathoners, the goal had been qualifying for Boston. Now, it was beating Oprah. Her time of four hours and 29 minutes — the Oprah Line — became the new benchmark for a respectable race. (That was P. Diddy’s goal when he ran New York.)
Once the supreme test for hardened runners, the marathon became a gateway into the sport. Soon, gravel paths were crowded with 5-mile-an-hour joggers out to check “26.2 miles” off their life lists. Team in Training, which raises money for leukemia research, promised to turn loafers into marathoners in 20 weeks. I met a lawyer who started running because, “They say if you can run a marathon, you can do anything!” The marathon was no longer a competition. It was a self-improvement exercise.
I have to say: I hate this attitude.  One of the things that I love about running marathons is the many reasons that people run -- for health, in memory of loved ones, to raise money for charity, to BQ, to win the purse.  I've run five of these at this point, and, honestly, the only person that I'm racing is myself -- a la ghost mode in Mario Kart.  Yes, I do want to eventually qualify for Boston. Yes, I would love to run a marathon in under four hours.  But, that's going to take some time.  Just finishing a marathon is an accomplishment, and I will always be in awe of people who can run marathons in close to two hours. And, I'm just as in awe of the people who trained their hardest and got themselves across the finish line in a time that they're proud of.

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