Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pearl Izumi and the Great Debate: What Makes a Marathoner?

Last week I was at the gym and grabbed June 2010's Running Times from the magazine rack.  I only got through 4 pages when I came across this advertisement for Pearl Izumi's Running shoes.
Now, I am going to preface this post knowing this is probably going to be an unfavorable opinion.  But I think this advertisement is very interesting for so many reasons:

A) I agree with Izumi.  The marathon was once a test of will and now it's something any and everyone can do
B) I don think Pheidippides wanted people to just complete a marathon walking.  He probably wanted people to well, race it. 
C) The marathon is not for casual runners or walkers, THERE are so many events for those people out there

In October, this article came out and it was unfavorable on a lot of blogs.  But I agreed with almost every quote.  If you finish a marathon in over 6 hours, you didn't run it.  6 hours is 13:43 pace.  I bet there are a lot of city-walkers out there who can run a mile around 13-14 minute pace.  I am the worlds slowest walker and I bet I could walk a mile in 14 minutes.  Now I just finished my first marathon at 10:11 pace and I think that is pretty damn slow for actually running.  I never walked more than 100 meters at a time and I didn't start to walk at all until the 17 mile mark. I'm not making excuses, but I never felt like it was "MY" day on May 2nd.  I struggled from the beginning and running in 80 degree weather didn't help.  In my training, I stopped at lights and to fill up my water, but I never walked.  So here is what I'm trying to say- if you do the training and you can run 20 miles at whatever pace, then you deserve to show up to the starting line of a marathon.  But if you don't do the training and cannot actually run 20 miles, I don't think its fair that you show up.  If you plan to walk a marathon, it's not fair to all the runners who a) want to run b) couldn't get into the race c) trained for the race.  There are millions of amazing walks out there for people who want to just complete an amazing challenge- Breast Cancer 3 Day Walks, the Overnight Walk, etc. I deeply encourage all people who want to get in shape and want to start running.  But I think there needs to be more baby-steps.  I ran my first 5K 6 years ago, and slowly added more mileage over the years to become a marathoner.  I think too many people jump from 5K to Marathon in one year just for the challenge which I completely applaud and encourage if you do the training.  But if you do it just to finish it in 6-7 hours then its not a race.

Here are some quotes from the NY times article:
"Runners in the Honolulu Marathon have no limits. Race rules state, “All runners will be permitted to finish, regardless of their time.”
Last year, 44 percent of the field for that event finished in more than six hours — with some marathoners stopping for lunch along the course."
"At the Marine Corps Marathon, in the Washington, D.C., area, runners must keep a pace of 14 minutes per mile or risk being booted from the event near the 20-mile mark. A bus looms there, waiting to pick up those who fail to cross the 14th Street Bridge before it reopens to traffic. Those who choose to continue on the open course do so at their own risk, taking to the sidewalks or dodging traffic."
"The New York City Marathon, scheduled for Nov. 1, will have a field of about 40,000. Last year, about 21 percent of the field finished in more than five hours. The race officially ends after 6:30, though runners are scored through 8:40, when the timing system is finally carted off, said the race director Mary Wittenberg."

So at the NYC Marathon,  almost a quarter of runners finished in over 5 hours. Fascinating no?

The truth is according to Izumi's I probably wouldn't be considered a runner either.  Hell, I only ran 1 minute faster than Oprah right? But my point of even writing this post is- I don't care how slow you run a marathon as long as you RUN and train for a marathon.  The people I am annoyed at are the people who don't do any training and plan to WALK for most of the race.  And to me most of the race is anything over 2/3 of it. Just my two cents on this Sunday evening.  I know you could never regulate who can run a marathon and who can't but I just wish the 'joggers' and 'walkers' thought about it before toeing the line.

Take a look at all the controversy the Pearl Izumi Ads caused when it first came out last year.  Being in advertising, I do find all of this interesting.  Because bad press can actually be good press because it makes you actually think about the brand and associate with it which could lead to buying the goods!

Also take a look at this video.  I do videos like this all the time for my clients for award shows.  I really do find this all so amazing. If you listen to the end, sales went up 44%.  So... this advertising does work.  It may offend, but it also works.  However, in this search, I also found this blog.  Which I see where this person is coming from.  I don't completely agree with what Pearl Izumi has written in their ad, but a lot of it, I do. And I think it's good advertising.


  1. Very interesting entry. I have to say for the most part I agree. However, I think a gray area begin to materialize when one "sets" a cutoff time for mile pace. For example 13:43 pace seems slow to you but some people (especially elderly or less gifted athletes) actually run at this clip. They may have trained just as hard but aren't as gifted. So it's difficult to say they shouldn't be allowed to compete. And how can you make the distinction between those that are there to "race" and those that aren't. Also, there are "runners" out there who look at your time and say the same thing, believing in their hearts that people that run at your pace shouldn't be allowed to race. All I am saying is that this topic is indeed controversial and a slippery slope to argue for or against. Great blog though.

  2. I absolutely TOTALLY agree that it is a fine line. So my point is this- if you run for most of a race and finish in 6 or 7 hours then you deserve to run the race. I am just against people who don't do the training and who plan to walk marathons. The point of the marathon was to run it.

  3. My friend Carissa just told me there are marathons out there for WALKERs, if that is the case then you should totally be allowed to walk. I didn't know that the RnR races did that.

  4. It's not the pace that marks you as a runner, it's the effort.

    Happy running! :)

  5. @Running Atom: AGREED. And...dedication. endurance. spirit.

  6. Pearl's add in Nov' 2010 sums it up for me. "THE MARATHON IS A RACE TO BE RUN, NOT A BOX TO BE CHECKED. The early mornings. The screaming muscles. The countless miles. When you add them up, the sacrifices made by the marathoners who came before us are humbling. And yet look at how we've tarnished their legacy. Somewhere along the line, the marathon became less of a competitive sport and more of a line item on a bucket list. Now don't get us wrong. Running in a marathon is a good thing. In fact, its a great thing. But we can al dig a little deeper and honor the marathon by treating it more like a race and less like a check box. So next time you're toeing the line, respect the marathon."

  7. It's not about how fast you run a marathon or any given race for that matter. It's more about having respect for the marathon and all race distances (including shorter distance) and what it takes to run them well. For example, the running community where I live is run by a bunch of cocky men and women who think the longer the race you run, the more "runner" you are. Most of them never ran, or run competitively and show a lack or respect for shorter distances. When they do a local 5k with their 6 bottle fuel belt, they'll say something like, "its only a 5k." There's more respect for a 40 year old guy who runs a 6 hour marathon than for a kid who runs a 15:00 5k. They're more concerned with which post race beer is offered, or what band is playing than the race itself. Like I said, a lack of respect for what distance running is..

    Thats what Pearl Izumi is trying to say! It's not a bashing ad campaign.

    Trust me, I love all runners. All I'm saying is if you run a 5-7 hr marathon, then thats great. Just don't try and compare that to a fast 15k,10k or 5k. Or worse, don't belittle the shorter distances! Anyway, thats my community for you. Maybe yours is different.

  8. Hey Anon... I agree with everything you've written.

  9. I completely disagree. I see where you are coming from but I think a culture of encouragement is more progressive than the elitist attitude you are touting here. Obesity is a huge problem. We should honor the efforts of everyone involved and everyone who wants to be a part of it. None of it takes away from the efforts of the truly fast runners.