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Proud member of ‘The Slowest Generation’

This column was published in The Bryan Times Monday, Oct. 7.

Dear Kevin Helliker,

By now I’m sure you know your Sept. 19 article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Slowest Generation,” sparked some intense discussion among the running community. Me? Well, I started smouldering with rage after I read it, but I decided to cool off a bit before responding.

There are just a few flaws in your reporting that I think you glossed over in what I believe was your attempt to shame us young folk into quitting. If you’re going to define my generation as slow, you need to know a few things.

You quote an industry expert as saying there aren’t as many super-competitive athletes today as when baby boomers were young. Sure, I guess I can give you that, considering you report later that the number of overall participants in races has steadily increased recently. Mathematically, it gets tougher to be at the top of the pack.

The expert also says, “Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it’s good enough just to finish.”

Then you go on to report, “Old-timers are suggesting that performance-related apathy among young amateur athletes helps explain why America hasn’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004.”

Ok, let me break this whole medal thing down for you. First of all, here’s some basic Olympic trivia. The summer games — for which the marathon is an event — are only held once every four years. Therefore, since 2004, there has only been two Olympic marathons.

So, if you’re going to define my generation as slow, use something other than a race held just once in four years to pigeonhole us there.

Secondly, when you imply that we should be horrified by the idea of receiving a medal just for finishing, you overlook several factors. The first one being that these medals come from races which aren’t geared toward Olympic marathon runners or elite athletes. I highly doubt that the Color Run, which you dog for not timing its participants, has seen any entries from athletes training to make the U.S. running team. Thousands of people running — or (GASP!) walking — through colored cornstarch will slow down the athletes at the U.S. training center.

Nor do I think you really want to mess with the un-timed participants of the Tough Mudder, who complete obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces. They willingly pay an entry fee to be tortured for those 10 to 12 miles, so I think they should get whatever prize they want.

As a fellow runner, I would think you’d be happy with the idea of so many new athletes trying our sport. Several research articles published recently point out that themed and so-called fun runs are precisely the reason running has seen a spike in popularity.

Tell me, Mr. Helliker, why you think that in order for America to be more competitive we need to exclude slower runners from participating in these kinds of races?

This is where you need to know where I’m coming from. I started running earlier this year as a way to continuing losing weight. I finished my first 5K in April, and — despite the fact that I didn’t get a medal — it sparked a desire to keep going. Knowing that I won’t ever be an elite athlete, I signed up for and completed several fun races that I’m sure you wouldn’t take the time to run. I never placed, but I also never quit.

Races like the Warrior Dash and Color Me Rad gave  me something to look forward to and train for, and they made me feel like I was part of an amazing community. I felt welcomed in the sport of running, no matter my pace or experience. And, I starting training for my first half marathon, which helped me conquer my obesity and gave me a newfound confidence and zest for life.

The best part is that I KNOW my story is not unique. “Slow” runners of my generation are signing up for the same kinds of races in droves, finally motivated by the idea of being active — and having a great time while we’re at it.

So you’re right, maybe most of my generation lacks the motivation to qualify for a major world race — or even see a first place finish at a local 5K. But darn it, at least some of use are finally getting up off the couch.

Maybe your generation’s ultra-competitive attitude is what excluded so many people from trying to run in the first place. The mind-set of only running if you’re fast might be part of our nation’s overwhelming obesity problem — and my generation is the one that is tasked with finding the solution.

So, go ahead and define my generation as slow, lazy, empathetic, whatever. We’d rather be jogging and having fun instead of lying on the couch — where it seems you’d prefer we stay.

By the time this goes to print, I will have crossed the finish line after running 13.1 miles Sunday — exactly six months after finishing my first 5K. I know I won’t place in my age group or win any sort of awards, but I’ll be thrilled nonetheless.

And I’ll proudly dedicate my finisher’s medal to all the slow pokes out there. Don’t let the likes of Mr. Helliker get you down.

An addition for my blog readers: BOOM.


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