Defending champion Stanley Biwott of Kenya owned the streets of Philadelphia once again on Sunday morning, winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon for the second-straight year in 59 minutes and 36 seconds. The 27-year-old Kenyan ran the fastest half-marathon time on a record-eligible course in the U.S. this year. I didn’t get to see him finish because it took 45 minutes to get the other 22,000 participants across the start line. By the time I walked to the finish line, it was over.
And that’s kinda the point. It’s hard to make a connection with the winner of a race if you’re barely at mile 1 when they break the tape.
In a recent blog [Dumbing Down] Toni Reavis, a well-respected member of the running community, quoted long time sports agent Brendan Reilly, and another well-respected member of the running community, as saying:
“I think we’ve had too many years of the John Bingham (Waddle On, Penguins) philosophy. John is a nice guy, a very entertaining and eloquent speaker, but there seems to be little in the sport these days to carry the runners that John has gotten off the couch to the next level of aiming to run faster and treat our events like RACES. And without that mentality, it is no wonder so few participants really care of even understand that somebody just ran 4:45 or 5:20 pace to win their race.
It’s true that I couldn’t run a 4:45 pace even if I was dropped from a plane. It just isn’t in me. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Stanley Biwott couldn’t play bass trombone with the National Symphony in a performance of the Berlioz Requiem as I did. It just isn’t him. I don’t think that means he doesn’t care or understand the talent and dedication required in my profession any more than I don’t care or understand the talent and dedication required in his. It’s just different.
I would also argue that some, if not most, of the folks that have gotten off the couch have, indeed, tried to go to the next level of aiming to run faster. I can’t remember a conversation at any of the clinics or seminars that I’ve given or moderated in which people asked how they could run more slowly than they were. No one asked what to do to finish a marathon in over 5 hours if their marathon best was 4 hours. It’s in our nature, as runners, to want the best of ourselves. It’s just that the BEST is not going to be THE best.
So what do we do? What do we do as individuals? What do we do as a community? What do we do as an industry? Here’s what I think. We have to take a page from the NASCAR handbook. We have to find a way to make the BEST in our sport also the most approachable and popular in our sport. It can be done.
When elite runners like Josh Cox or Deena Kastor or Kara Goucher appear at the race expos they pack the house. Why? Because they connect directly with the REST of the participants. The hundreds of people who stand in line to get autographs and have their photo take with these elites runners DO care and understand what it takes. They also care and understand that Josh and Deena and Kara are more than just elite runners. They are spouses and parents and have interesting lives, that they’re willing to share, when they are NOT racing.
I was there to shake the hand of the final finisher on Sunday. Stanley was not. I get emails and Facebook messages thanking me for being there. Stanley does not. But he could.
My advice to ALL the elites out there [and ALL of their managers]. The next time you win a race, bring a change of clothes. Get cleaned up after the awards ceremony and join me at the finish line. I think you will see that these people CAN care and WILL care if you share your success with them and allow THEM to share their success with YOU.
Waddle on, friends.