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Perhaps I Have Ruined Running

Elite athletes have every right to be proud of their accomplishments. They also should be role models for the rest of us. There is no good reason to disparage those who are joining the race with modest goals.
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I have realized I belong to the crowd accused of ruining running. You see, I have started to enter half marathons. This year, I have finished five; for its remaining duration, I have signed up for another half dozen.

I'm either the fastest walker or the slowest runner, depending on which standard is selected. Despite taking a full minute off my per mile pace, my personal record is a relatively leisurely 2:43. That is for 13.1 miles, or under 12:30 for each.

Entering this athletic culture with ample enthusiasm, I have been surprised that some serious runners are ambivalent about the newfound popularity of their pastime. They are contemptuous of celebrities who attract news coverage for their first (and likely only) marathon. They are unhappy about amateurs who train through a charity program that promises anyone can go the distance.

You can buy, for example, t-shirts mocking Oprah Winfrey, even though her time for the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon was respectable. She apparently is regarded as privileged, as if she had paid someone else to cross the finish line.

Yet it is possible to be both serious and slow. Although the "quantified self" movement may be the new narcissism, if a GPS tracker prompts someone to slouch off the couch and start down the street then it has served a praiseworthy purpose. The other day, I forgot to put the device on my wrist and thus failed to count three miles. I reminded myself the experience was what mattered, not the measurement of it.

Thanks to my competition with myself, I have logged as many as 15 miles in a day, and I upped the pre-set goal to 10 miles. I was inspired by a family member who said, literally, "If I can do this, you can," and I feel obligated to repeat that encouragement to as many others as possible. I regard that as positive for the sport and our society.

A European movement, "Volksmarching" (from the German), has become popular. It is organized fitness walking, albeit non-competitive. That spirit will improve our lives.

Sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast. There is no need for the constant rush of our era. The parable of the tortoise and the hare is repeated with reason.

My run-walking has become integral to my life. I have been working with a management coach. Her suggestions about self-awareness prompted me to increase my strolls through the neighborhood. I perform better by being as attentive to my breathing as I am to my email inbox. A business meeting is improved if it is upright and in motion. It simultaneously calms and energizes.

I recently heard the Surgeon General speak. Dr. Vivek Murthy pointed out that much of what affects our health, individually and collectively, is within our control. That includes not only vices his predecessors have warned against, such as smoking and drinking, but also the failure to pursue virtues, primarily diet and exercise. His office has a new initiative to promote the simplest act: walking. Advertisements for fancy gym equipment suggest that only a few minutes a day will generate results, and it turns out to be true for hiking, trekking, and merely plodding along.

Elite athletes have every right to be proud of their accomplishments. They also should be role models for everyone else. But the awards for the winners of marathons are compatible with the medals for the rest of us who have done what we set out to do. There is no good reason to disparage those who are joining the race with modest goals.

Sustained engagement is no small feat. A person who is fast ends up far ahead of me. I hope to continue improving. Until then, there should be room on the course for both of us.