Friday, February 17, 2012

Has the Marathon Hurt the US Running Scene?

Yesterday I read a very very interesting post on Flotrak about how the growing cult of the marathon may be hurting the track and field scene. Although the article focuses on track, its premise probably holds true for distance events like the 5k and 10k to some extent as well.

Basically, Kevin Selby, the author, argues that professional runners are getting into the marathon too early in their careers before they've truly tapped their potential on the track. Here's Selby's argument in a nutshell:
Americans are a lot better off if they stay on the track through their 20’s.  A move to the marathon should only come once significant international track experience is achieved for the top tier Americans.  The marathon will always be there, but improvements may be halted by turning to 26.2 too soon.
The biggest worry plaguing Selby, however, seems not to be that these runners are sacrificing their potential, but that they are damaging the popularity of track events. I certainly wish running got more public attention across the board, but we have to start somewhere. Right now, the marathon seems to have captured the public's attention, at least to a certain extent.

NBC broadcast the Olympic trials (not live but at least they showed them at a time when people were awake) and NYRR now has a deal with ESPN to broadcast the NYC Marathon. I think the public is starting to care, at least a little, about the marathon. I actually think our best bet for enhancing the popularity of shorter events is to tap into this excitement surrounding the marathon.

Following Selby's argument, runners would simply stay out of the marathon and we would get the kind of exciting narratives like Ryan Hall's record-breaking in-all-but-name performance at last year's Boston Marathon. Call me crazy, but I'm excited about the sport's prospects.

What are your thoughts? Should Americans wait later to enter the marathon? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by going long too soon?

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