I read a story that could have been discouraging if left unaddressed, but turned out to have a happy-ish ending. The story was about the back-of-the-pack runners in the London marathon, who were bullied and fat-shamed by the clean-up crew, among others. But the race organizers investigated and made good. They offered free guaranteed spots to anyone who finished in 7 hours or longer.
The headline of the Runner’s World article about it reads, “Bullied London Marathoners Harassed for Being ‘Fat’ and ‘Slow’ Offered Free Race Entry for 2020.” What’s sad and discouraging about this story is that these runners were actually following an official pacer. So the race officially said it was okay to take 7 1/2 hours. So why was the course even being cleaned up before then?
I had this happen to me when I did the Mississauga Marathon. It took me close to six hours, and the last 10K were pretty much the worst 10K of my life. What I said then I still believe now: there is a certain kind of respect owed to people who stick it out for that long. Of course I am in awe of the speedsters who finish marathons in under 2:30, under 3:00, under 4:00. When you get into the 5 or more hour range, it’s a different kind of endurance that’s required. The mental game goes on for longer. The physical challenge drags on for longer.
I get that this is a choice. That those of us who are slower runners know going in that we will take a long time. But if a race has a window before which they announce in advance the course will be open, then the course should be open for that duration. When I did my marathon (my only marathon, and probably to remain forever my only marathon because it was a miserable experience in myriad ways–if you’re curious, here’s my report), they started packing up the course ahead of me. Since I was among the last few runners, that made it difficult to know sometimes where I was supposed to go. When I got to the finish line, they were out of food. I get that the volunteers had been out for hours. But you know what? So had I.
But at least I wasn’t harangued on top of all that for being slow or fat. That’s absolutely shameful because anyone who makes it to the finish line, or even close, deserves to be congratulated for their efforts. Likely everyone who enters a marathon, regardless of when they expect to finish, has trained for the event, has covered a ton of ground in the months leading up, is nervous, is excited, and is doing something rare and wonderful.
It’s good news that the organizers of the London Marathon recognized that this is not the race experience they promise. That’s why they did a thorough investigation and when the allegations of mistreatment turned out to be true, they sent around an email to those slower runners: “We are sorry that your race day experience was not to the standard we set ourselves. As a result we would be delighted to invite you to be part of the 40th Race Day.”
I hope that at least some of the affected runners take up the offer. For me, an offer of free registration for the next iteration of the event would not have got me to do it again. Regardless, the organizers’ response shows respect for those of us in the bottom few. And it’s a deserved and earned respect.
If you’re a slower endurance runner, has your experience at events like marathons been overall good or overall more challenging as far as race organization goes?