16 March 2015

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Is it right to pull someone out of a race for being too slow? asks The Guardian, in a blog item devoted to this week's top running story. I won't express a view about the runner or the organisers, because it is impossible to tell what is true and what isn't, and lot of it probably turns on people's perceptions, although one thing that is clear is that there is a great deal of vituperation which should be completely alien to the running community.

Avoiding the contentious matters which occupy a large part of the Internet, the important matter in this boils down to something that is lacking in the modern world - respect. One of the wonderful things about running - and many other sports and pastimes, I make no special claims for my sport - is that the people involved generally have a lot of it for the other people involved. To most runners, a grossly overweight reformed couch potato struggling through their first 5K is at least as much deserving of respect as the whippet (as someone wrote in the comments on The Guardian blog) winning it in 17-something. All runners began the journey somewhere, perhaps not with so much to overcome but we still recognise, and relate to, the effort it takes. And almost all of us - though, evidently and very sadly not every single one of us - will do what we can to encourage those taking the first steps. That is respect.

There is also the respect which one hears about from people like mountaineers and explorers - respect for the challenge they are undertaking. I might feign being being blasé about Marathons, but it is not long since I was very respectful of 5Ks. We must not undertake these events lightly. If we are injured or unwell, we must respect the fact that the challenge is temporarily beyond us: and apart from self-presevation, we must do so because we would not wish to burden the organisers and marshals, or the other competitors whose event we might spoil. A very small number of runners die in organised events: how must those running in proximity to them feel about that? I know of no cases in which a runner died because they ran with a condition of which they were aware, but if one is ill one should not risk imposing on other runners. Or burdening the marshals, or the first aid people. That is respect.

It also extends to thanking the marshals (and when I marshal I remember those runners who, though not short of breath, fail to show their gratitude: even the fastest runners can find a way to acknowledge us) and to refraining from using earphones, which block out marshals' commands and the sounds of traffic and other runners, all essential to safe and considerate running. Reverting to the case in point, it includes making clear on the entry form if there is a cut-off time and (on the part of the entrants) at least making an effort to run the course - if you have entered a running race with a view to walking it, you have deprived someone who wanted to run it, to do it the way it was intended, of the opportunity to do so. If there is an early start for slow runners, respect for others means recognising honestly whether that means you. About whether that applies in the case in point or not I venture no opinion, but simply reiterate that with the respect for each other than members of the running community traditionally show to one another these problems would never arise.