Thursday, July 17, 2008

Running for the T-shirt

Most people (who have any interest in running news) have probably already seen the article about Paula Radcliffe being allowed until the day before the Olympic marathon to decide whether she is fit to run. Radcliffe has a stress fracture which has prevented her from training properly for the last ten weeks. But since she is England's top female marathoner, the powers that be in UK athletics are giving her as much time as she needs to decide if she is able to run.

The guy in charge in England said this:

When you have an athlete of that quality, you let them take all the options possible. . . . She is taking it very seriously, we are taking it very seriously. Paula will say yes or no. Paula is in the middle of a slow rehab process. It's a case of how well that rehab process goes. I don't think she will go there just for the T-shirt, but it would take something miraculous for her to win.


I don't think I've ever entered a race "just for the T-shirt," but I've also never entered a race where I had the faintest hope of winning a gold medal, or any kind of top prize (other than an age-group prize in a small field of runners). The concept of being the kind of caliber runner that an entire country's Olympic team will wait until 24 hours before the race for you to decide whether to run is really beyond my comprehension. The implication is, of course, that Paula will not and should not run unless she has a reasonable expectation of running well enough to win. Fair enough. The Olympic marathon is the most elite of the elites, and with only a few spots allotted to each country, obviously they must be hoarded.

But can you imagine if that type of standard were applied to all races, or all runners? If we only entered races where we thought we would win? A lot of us, me most of all, would be lying in bed on Saturday or Sunday mornings instead of driving at the crack of dawn to some remote spot, just to stand in line at porta-potties for a couple of hours before spending an hour*, or two** or four***, pounding our feet against pavement, gasping for air, and sweating buckets. And our reward for this endeavor? Pieces of bananas and bagels and a t-shirt to wear to the Y or around town, proclaiming our participation in the race.

So, maybe I do run for the t-shirt. The t-shirt is the physical reminder (other than aches and pains) that you've accomplished something pretty cool. (Hopefully the t-shirt is also pretty cool. I've had a few dogs....)

But I rarely think about the shirt when I'm picking a race to run. My number one consideration is location. Either convenience of location (near home) or interesting location (far from home). I also like to think about the route. Will it be city? Will it be scenic? Will it be along a highway or long boring country road? (Obviously, city or scenic, good; highway or boring road, bad.) Will it be a fun and interesting place to run?

If I were going to choose an Olympics to run in (ha!), it would not be Beijing but rather London in four years. Beijing does not particularly appeal to me, but England does. The races and runs I do are not just a running experience for me, but a life experience. I may not get a prize (though I will get a t-shirt!), but I will walk away with memories that will last a lot longer than bananas, bagels and even t-shirts.****

*10K plus warm-up.
**Half-marathon on a pretty good day.
***Half-marathon on a really, really bad day. (Just kidding. That would be a marathon on a good day. For someone other than me.)
****Unless I get amnesia.


Lisa said...

Great post!

I'm with you... the t-shirt is often an afterthought for me. I think a lot of us enter races to try to compete against ourselves and get a PR. When you have four out of the five fastest times in the WORLD, I suppose a PR is a pretty tall order.

Personally, I really hope she runs. It will be quite a race to watch!

Kristin said...

I hope she runs too! Although my loyalty is firmly with Deena Kastor. I'm quite excited because if it is aired live, that will be a4:30 p.m. starting time on Aug. 16 in my time zone and about 6:30 p.m. when things start to get interesting... perfect for watching!