The Casual Runner

Running Real

CR Note: The topic of today’s feature came out of a suggestion from one of our readers, Darrell of Washington, D.C. If you have any questions for the Casual Runner Team or want the CR Team to discuss any topics, please get in touch with us using our contact information at the end of this article. 

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Running is not about defeating the course, it is about overcoming the challenges that we set for ourselves.

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
– Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

Yeah, yeah, I did just quote Shakespeare, but there is a good reason for it.  So please, bear with me.  We previously looked at how different people take different viewpoints as to the true value of race medals.  We also looked at the very small, but unfortunately existing, dishonesty that is a black mark on the racing community.  Today we were asked to look at another unfortunate occurrence that recently made headlines.

At the GO! St. Louis Marathon earlier this month, Kendall Schler emerged from seemingly out of nowhere to surprise everyone by becoming the first woman to cross the finish line.  Perhaps her finish should not have come as that much of surprise, as she did finish third in the same event the previous year. The problem was – and stop us if you’ve heard this before – no one saw her on the course prior to her emerging near the finish line. But, to the victor goes the spoils, and the cheers of the crowd, the confetti finish, and the $1,500 prize for being crowned the race champion.  Andrea Karl, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, would finish second behind Schler, but would do so without the fanfare deserving of the champion.

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The way we conduct ourselves as runners sets an example for future generations who will honor the sport.

Now, you may be wondering why Casual Runner is covering this story as our content tends to skew more towards the runners father back in the pack. Well, you see, while Schler did cross the finish line first, she did not actually win the race. She finished ahead of the official on-course escort that tracks the lead runner (who was with Karl as she crossed the finish line, not Schler).  And things started getting more suspicious from there. Not long after Schler crossed the finish line, race officials became aware that Schler did not register split times on the timing mats located around the course. In fact, they later determined that she removed the timing chip from her bib.  A quick investigation determined Schler’s secret to winning the race was that she had channeled her inner Rosie Ruiz, and cheated.  We do not know how much of the 26.2 miles Schler actually ran, but all that matters is that it was less than 26.2 miles.

For those of you who do not who Rosie Ruiz is, she is the woman who infamously stole the victory celebration at the 1980 Boston Marathon, but was later determined to have cheated and was later reported to have entered the course a mere half mile from the finish line.  She was later disqualified, her “victory” vacated, and her name consigned to history as one of the all-time infamous sports cheaters.

So will be the fate of Schler as race officials quickly moved to vacate her victory and declare Karl the race champion. But this story did not end there, as officials reviewed Schler’s third place finish from the 2014 race, and determined that it too resulted from cheating.  Because Schler used that finish as her qualifying time to gain entry to the 2015 Boston Marathon, race officials expelled her from that race.

There is an old adage that cheaters are only cheating themselves. Well, in Schler’s case, that is not entirely true, as she cheated Andrea Karl out of her moment of victory and her well-deserved fanfare and celebration. Schler cheated the gathered fans out of witnessing honest athletic achievement. And, in being discovered so late, she likely cheated at least one person out of the opportunity to run the 2015 Boston Marathon.  And that is what we know about for now.

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While we love these precious things, there is more to running that gadgets, gizmos, and medals a-plenty.

Bear with me again for a moment as I ask you to forget the SMOs, the swag, and the PRs. At its core, one’s Casual Running adventure has nothing to do with any of that. It is the not destination, but the journey that matters.  It is not getting to toe the line at, or even crossing the finish line at, the big race that matters, it is the countless hours spent out logging those training miles that is the true measure of what one gets out of their Casual Running adventure.  Thus, in the end, the only one to whom you are ever accountable is yourself.

Yes, during training, you can stop at 3.0 miles instead of running your full planned 5k training run. During training you can take today off if you are just not feeling it.  As long as you are getting what you want out of the experience, nothing else really matters.  In training, your happiness with your effort is all that matters.  You do not have to meet some arbitrary goal unless you want to do so. After all, if you want to be happy, to thine own self be true.

When it comes to races, when we enter and toe the line at them, we do so to set physical challenges for ourselves, including goals that at some point may not have seemed impossible.  It is incumbent upon us as Casual Runners to honor the sport we chose and rise to those challenges.  When runners cheat, they are not only cheating themselves, but they are cheating the sport.

Even with all of the technology (chrono tags, timing mats, videotaped starts and finishes, etc.), running races, by their very nature and logistics, are still largely about the honor system.  It is incumbent on runners to honor the race, the sport, and themselves by running races fairly and honestly.  I have personally witnessed course cutters at the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon (Part 1 & Part 2) and the 2014 runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon (Part 1 & Part 2).  I have also heard some runners publicly give advice for cutting the course at the runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon.  Admittedly I do not know whether any of those course cutters registered times that would have allowed them to “earn” age group awards or Boston Qualifying Times, in fact, I do not know if these runners even finished the races.  But it is my hope that they did not.  In the end, I all that I know is that I will never dishonor the sport in this way.

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There is no better feeling of accomplishment than in honoring the sport by leaving it all out on the course.

I cannot help but think of the number of times I have seen Casual Runners lending aid to other runners who struggled to cross the finish line.  Those individuals honor the sport by their determination and refusal to let the challenge defeat them, or to let the challenge defeat a fellow runner.  Their finish times may not be the fastest, their form may not be the prettiest, but they honor the sport by showing up, and by never giving up.

It is those Casual Runners to whom I look for inspiration and motivation.  And to the would-be Kendall Schler’s and Rosie Ruiz’s of the world, whatever may be your motivation to do what you do, please remember, the vast majority of runners – Casual and otherwise – are hitting the pavement and training trails each and every day to honor the sport the right way.

Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below. 
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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