First-Time Finisher: Why You Should Care About Pro Runners, Not the Eagles

Especially this fall, given how Andy Reid's squad has been performing

Betcha can't name these pro runners, who won the Chicago Marathon on October 9th. Images courtesy of Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I woke up a couple Sunday mornings ago, and, before conjuring myself out of bed, started scrolling through Twitter on my phone. @RunnersWorld had tweeted a half-marathon split for Moses Mosop, the 2011 winner and course record-setter for the 2011 Chicago Marathon.

Oh, that’s right! I thought. Today’s Chicago Marathon day. The Chicago, New York and Boston Marathons are sort of the playoffs of marathon season (though, for those of you who had to suffer through the Phillies travesty a couple weeks ago, they’re less painful to watch). I figured if Mosop was already done with the first half of the marathon, he’d have, say, another 13 minutes before crossing the finish line.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I darted out of bed, slid down the bannister in my flannel, poured a bowl of cereal, and hopped on the couch to watch the final stretch on TV.

I turned to NBC. Football and weather reports. I turned to a few other major channels. Everybody Love Raymond reruns and news segments. I flipped to ESPN. More football.

You’re kidding, I thought. There wasn’t a TV station in Philadelphia where I could watch the Chicago Marathon? There were 45,000 athletes, for chrissakes! Eyes all over the world were waiting to see what the winning time would be! I could watch Arizona face off against Minneapolis, but not the Chicago marathon?

Indignant, I signed onto for the livestream. Let the networks have their silly morning programming. The Internet wins, again.

Hooked, I watched as cameras rolled alongside flapping jerseys and sweating brows. Stat screens flashed mile splits and personal records next to the names of elite runners. Soon, it became clear who owned the race: Mosop pulled away from his cohorts to finish in two hours and five minutes, and Lilya Shobukhova won the women’s race in two hours and eighteen minutes—her third Chicago win in a row.

Wow, I thought to myself. Eight years of competitive running, plus my recent marathon fixation, and I have never once heard of either of those people.

Maybe the networks are right: Marathons—even big ones—aren’t exactly viewer magnets.

I have to admit, though, I was sort of ashamed of myself. I think there’s a sense among competitive runners (high on their own endorphins) that the enormous increase in marathoning over the past few years has taken some of the prestige out of the marathon. Everyone and his goldendoodle is training for a marathon, they say. As one writer/runner in Chicago puts it:

Yes, I’ve completed the Chicago Marathon. Three times, going on four this week.

I’d like to say this makes me an urban warrior. But if that’s true, the threshhold for making such a claim is far too low, with fellow warriors including the guy who ran 2010’s marathon in an Eiffel Tower costume, approximately half of my Facebook news feed and, probably, your grandma.

Let’s face it, lululemon-clad brothers and sisters: If you’re doing 26.2 for the bragging rights, you’d better be qualifying for Boston. Otherwise, kindly shut up.

For the record, I’m of the school of thought that running a marathon a) should never be done for bragging rights, and b) is a pretty awesome achievement no matter what time you run it in.

But it did get me thinking more about how running, too often, is seen as a hobby more than a sport. A yuppie version of athleticism. And how absolutely insane that must drive people who make their living shooting for qualifying times, top ten finishes and sponsorship dollars. These should be the individuals we look to for inspiration every day, and yet I think most runners could name more pro golfers than pro runners.

There’s probably a number of reasons for this—track and cross country meets are hard to find on TV, and there isn’t the rallying spirit around pro runners that there is around, say, the Eagles. (Though Mosop deserves FAR more praise for his achievements this fall than Andy Reid does, in my humble opinion).

While I don’t know all the reasons why runners don’t follow pro running, I can think of three very good reasons why they should.

First, we should do it for self-serving reasons. If watching a two-hour marathon doesn’t inspire you to go for an extra-quick jog that day, I don’t know what will. Running is like any passion: Watching people who are better at it than you will make you want to get better yourself.

Second, it’s fun. Just like you might have a soft spot for reliable, handsome Roy Halladay or lovable Jimmy Rollins, there are plenty of personalities, talents and careers to follow and love in professional distance running. Kenyan Moses Mosop struggled with a tendon injury in 2009 before going on to run the second-fastest marathon ever in Boston in 2010. He’s a bit out of shape, now (hence the 2:05 marathon instead of his 2010 2:03, apparently). (He’s a touch cocky).

Lilya Shobukhova, a Russian, was filmed greeting her young daughter and husband at the finish line a couple weeks ago. She came in second at the London Marathon this past spring, and she beamed as her translator relayed to a reporter that she was “incredibly proud” to have won three Chicagos in a row (she’s the first person to have ever done so).

I’m not saying 13-year-olds across America will tear down their Derek Jeter posters for a new Lilya Shobukhova one anytime soon, but I think these athletes offer plenty to idolize.

Last, it’s about time that runners started to sell themselves as runners instead of neighborhood joggers. As athletes instead of folks who work out. But it’s hard to do that unless we start embracing the long, storied history distance running comes with, and to pay a little more respect those runners at the front. You know, the ones leading the pack.


Research editor Annie Monjar blogs about training for the Philadelphia Marathon each week here on Be Well Philly. Want to catch up on the series? Here are her earlier posts, starting from the beginning:
• Taking the Marathon Dive
• Running a Marathon is @#^%*! Expensive
• The Great iPod Debate
• Knowing When to Take a Day Off
• A Good Trail Is Hard to Find
• Is Yoga Worth It for Runners?
• Group Runs Are for Angry Birds
• Does a Runner’s Diet Matter?
The Morning Run Conundrum