The case against the BQ

I have been tired and running has been difficult. But I got out today and did a few miles. My usual course was obstructed by a movie set. I suppose that’s the downside of living in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, right? But, it has been decided that I will run the Cathedral Marathon next weekend. It will be my first point-to-point marathon. A new experience, and it is the closest to a marathon the decision has been made to run it. Now I have to get myself prepared mentally.
More on marathons though: I had been reading about more people being found to have cheated in Boston Qualifier races. So I will make my case against Boston. I know people will disagree, but this is getting out of hand. First, let’s discuss what the cheating does.
So people want to run Boston, and many work very hard to reach the ridiculous qualifying times. I’m not saying it’s not something to be immensely proud of. It totally is, if I could run a 3:05 marathon, I would feel like I was king of the world, and I have all the love and respect for those who can. But, for all the people who work hard and do it honestly, the fact is a 3:10, or even a 3:5 doesn’t guarantee a 30-39 year old male a spot in the marathon, it only gets him on the list to maybe make it. Now, if you cheat and get a 3:04:59, and that ends up being where they cut off, because they have too many 30-39 year old makes, then the guy who got a 3:05 honestly doesn’t get his start. That’s totally not right. It goes against everything I’ve come to believe running is about.
To me, and to many I’ve met, running is about pushing yourself, competing against yourself, improving yourself. It’s not about accolades and awards. I don’t write this, or talk about my marathons to get congratulations from people, or their respect, or admiration or whatever. I do it to try and inspire others to improve themselves, to learn the joy of competing against yourself. People cheating to get in, they are doing it for glory, for aggrandizement, they want others to see what they have done. Let’s face it, if they wanted to do it just for them, they’d get a charity spot, and do it that way, or go the hard work route. I have one friend who worked so hard for a few years to get to a BQ, and he always just missed it. Every time I read of him just missing his time, I probably felt worse than he did, it was heartbreaking! Particularly since he was amazingly fast in shorter races when we were at University together. But it was still inspirational, and I respected the work he put in so much! He embodied everything running means, he didn’t give up until it became untenable. Since then he has found new challenges for himself and has taken them on with the same grit and determination, and he has thrived.
But, if Boston wasn’t such a dragon, if people didn’t put so much into it, if so many didn’t cheat their way in, the times would probably be a little less daunting to qualify. Maybe my friend’s hard work would have paid off. That’s the thing. The organizers make lots of money off the event and its exclusivity. They keep pushing this mystique of the race and so many organizations and publications make it the Holy Grail of marathons. It needs to stop.
42 km (26.2 miles) is the same anywhere you run it. I don’t care if the course has sections with legendary names like “Heartbreak Hill”. It doesn’t matter. I have run courses tougher than anything you find in Boston. I have certainly run some easier. I have reached my goals, and I have failed mightily and lost heart in races. I’ve been overjoyed, I’ve cried, I’ve felt like an unstoppable ubermensch, and I’ve felt like the lowest piece of crap on the planet! It doesn’t matter what city I’m running in, what course I’m running on. When I ran, unsupported, around Vesuvius I became so disheartened when I took the wrong turn. It didn’t matter that it was only a training run, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t racing, this was my marathon around the volcano. I had my goals, and I failed, simply because I was negligent with my gps directions. I made it, my time wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
That’s all running is, a fight with yourself, your body, your heart, your best and your worst all coming together to try and get that perfect 26.2 done. It doesn’t matter where it is, who is watching, or what other people think about it. All that matters is how you feel about your effort. Are you going to come out swinging and dominate your terrible performance next time? Are you going to keep pushing and break your new PR that you just set? Or are you just going to sit back and give up because you didn’t get what you wanted, or get lazy and complacent because you hit a new high and you don’t think you can ever get any better? None of it has anything to do with anything other than what’s in your own heart. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Boston, Massachusetts or Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, it only matters how you feel about it and how you react to whatever your best on that day was.
I’m not saying any of this to disparage anyone who makes an honest goal to reach Boston, or any other marathon, and compete with themselves there. But let’s just stop putting so much import on it. This will help some who are “on-the-bubble” and it will help discourage cheating. I know it’s the iconoclast in me not seeing anything special in Boston. I am generally immune to herd thinking and advertising. When I see something as popular, my instinct is to tear it down. I don’t want to do that with Boston, I understand its significance. But at the same time, I see the cheating, and the dragon-chasing, and it breaks my heart. To see dishonest people get to bask in stolen glory, while people who work hard go unrewarded. We need to scale everything down, and learn to find joy within ourselves.
It’s just as true in racing as it is in everyday life. The cheating to BQ is just a symptom of a system designed to leave us feeling like we lack, like we are not good enough, like we need more, and we need the adulation, the respect, the approval of others. That our happiness and well-being are dependent on others. We are social beings, it is true, and we do need a certain amount of acceptance, but we are complete within ourselves if we allow ourselves to be.
Just as none of my freedoms emanate from a government, or armed force, or writ, or consent of others, neither does my wholeness as a creature. I am not dependent on observation. I am, the energy of the Universe is vibrating at a certain frequency within the space which I occupy and it creates a me. What I do with that is entirely mine, how I express it is up to me. Of course I have to act in accordance with the reactions of those other entities around me, but I am me and I am allowed to be me. More than that I’m allowed to be happy with me, and I’m allowed to accept my own respect and congratulations. By the fact of existing alone, I am entitled to exist. Yep, tautology. The same is true of any creature. Doesn’t matter how others perceive that creature. Doesn’t matter if it’s a human, a cow, a fly. Yes, we need energy to survive and so we must predate on some creatures, humans, like most complex organisms require energy from a source beyond themselves or the Sun. But you are complete, you are whole, you don’t need what they sell you, you are a self-contained meat-sack of kick-ass! Whether you BQ or not. For the record, if one day I were to run a marathon fast enough to BQ (which I most likely won’t) I would not run the race. I wouldn’t even enter the lottery, I just don’t care. I don’t like Boston as a city, it’s one of my least favorite places on the whole of planet Earth.

Have fun, keep running, and remember; if Gil can run then so can you!


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