Qualifying Races: Prestigious Or Elitist?

In the running community, we are our own best cheerleaders and our own worst critics. Can we celebrate both ends of the running spectrum?

July 6, 2016
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The internet has been both a blessing and a curse for the endurance community. Because of the internet, we are now able to connect with thousands of other people across the world who can relate to our love of the sport. We can commiserate with people who can understand the stressors of a heavy training cycle or who can sympathize when we have to sit out a race because of an injury. We can draw strength and motivation from complete strangers—being able to follow them through training and celebrating with them when they overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.

But with this empowering community comes the onslaught of opinions from runners and non-runners alike, and the negativity can come right along with it. I’ve been a member of online groups for as long as I’ve been running, for me social media and running go hand in hand.

And I’ve seen a number of instances where runners are not always supportive of their fellow runners. There was the time when everyone was worked into a tizzy because one woman declared that slow runners don’t belong in marathons, and sadly, many agreed. There are those who shame others for sharing their race stats, claiming they are bragging, and those who shun runners for putting stickers on their cars.

But the most recent negative talk I’ve seen on the great world wide web is a topic I want to talk about today: qualifying for races.

In the running world, there are a number of prestigious races that runners must qualify for in order to race. One must qualify by either finishing a qualifying race in a specific time limit, or they must win an overall or age group title. Well-known examples of these races include the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon, Western States Ultra Marathon, or even the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen the school of thought among some runners that these races that you must qualify for are elitist and therefore unfair to the average runner. If you ask me, that is sort of a silly argument. To be elite implies that you are the best of the best, and so it only makes sense that a race that you have to qualify for would be elitist. I mean, that’s the idea after all, isn’t it—a race that includes only the best athletes?

So the question here is: Why is “elitist” considered a negative thing?

In a world where we pride ourselves on people overcoming obstacles and getting off of the couch and moving no matter how hard the struggle, why is it that we cannot also celebrate people who strive to overcome average limits and reach for “elite” status? Personally, I know many advanced runners who did start on the couch.

They struggled to get that first mile, then the second, then a 5K. Just like so many of us struggled in the beginning, or maybe still do struggle today. But some of these runners persevered through hours and months and years of training to go from non-athlete status to qualifying for races such as the Boston Marathon. And in my opinion, they deserve the recognition of running in a prestigious race. It is truly an honor for these people to participate in an event they worked so hard to qualify for.

Is it unfair that some of us may train our entire lives and still never make the cut to attend one of these races? Maybe, but let’s blame our genetics instead of pointing fingers at those whose legs do go a little (or a lot) faster than our own. Besides, we have countless other races that we are free to register for, no qualifying needed. And if we are going to be particular, most of the big qualifying races have alternative entry options besides qualification, such as lottery entries or charity bibs.

We are more than just a community, we are one big running family. And I encourage you to support other runners during every step of their journey, whether that is encouraging a new runner to break through the one-mile mark….or an experienced runner trying to achieve an elite goal.

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