Coach Mike Mead

June 2009

The Running De-Evolution

As the annual Peachtree Road Race 10K approaches next month, I’m at odds with the running gods regarding the overall state of running in our galaxy. Since my last Peachtree Road Race in 1986, each year I look with curious interest at the results of the race.

At the 1986 Peachtree, I finished 92nd in a time of 31:32. With each passing year, I’m a little saddened at the general state of competitive running because that 31:32 finishes higher and higher at Peachtree. In 2008, that time placed 32nd!

Something isn’t right! The Peachtree is more than twice the size when I ran it, yet the quality of the Top 100 has lessened over the years. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m picking on the Peachtree Road Race because I’ve noticed this with a lot of road races.

If running is evolving, why does it appear that the times are getting slower among the top finishers?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that more people run, but the percent of quality racers is less than it was 20-30 years ago. Yeah, there are folks breaking records and women have been blasting records. Thirty years ago the state of running among the female gender was just beginning yet look at the record books and you will find some pretty fast times for ladies running in the mid-1980’s.

But I sense fewer young folk – that is kids ranging from age 15-20 – are not embracing running because there are more distractions in their lives. They also have a shorter attention span and are not patient enough to reap the benefits since distance running takes a few years to see the fruits of labor due to the training.

Kids today also have more athletic options than 30 years ago with emerging sports like lacrosse and soccer. There are also all the technological advances that distract the youth like video games and the internet.

I also think part of the problem lies in the issue I touched on last month regarding the availability of enough experienced coaches. If a young person gets interested in running, they have limited options compared to a kid interested in baseball or basketball. I do not know if there is adequate coaching at the youth level with these kids, too, but more folks seem to think they know more about the basics of baseball or basketball compared to running.

The same is true with adults who pick up running, but do not know where to go for running advice. Areas like Atlanta have some pretty good resources, but if you live in rural areas of any state you are pretty much on your own. Yes, there is the internet these days that one can find valuable information about running, but it’s not the same as having that personal contact on a daily, or at least, weekly basis.

As mentioned in past columns, I also believe that there are too many road races these days that thin out the talent pool. Competitive runners pick and choose their races and many small races get overlooked by these runners because there just are too many.

I may have drifted from my original premise as to why the quality of competitive running appears to be down, but the issues are all interconnected. But that does not address a race like the Peachtree Road Race.

For me, I stopped running the Peachtree after 1986 because it was too big (about 20,000) and there was just not much of an incentive (inducements?) for me to do it any longer. Competitive runners are not motivated to race for T-shirts and when you have a closet full of them, you look for more. The big races take care of the elite runners with the cash prizes and inducements, but the next level of runner is left out.

It’s food for thought! So when you look for this year’s Peachtree Road Race results, be sure to check out where 31:32 finishes and wonder where have all the competitive runners gone?