"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Introducing the Term "Quality Finish"

I've been mentioning this for years among friends, but it's time to try to get it established.

Not long ago, I met a woman who told me she had finished a marathon in Hawaii. She was well over 300 pounds, so I guessed she had done it a long time ago, but it was in the past year. It's possible, I thought, as there are some people who manage to be fit and fat at the same time, but it's very rare. She told me how she had trained for 9 months, getting out every day to get in her mileage. "It was hard, but I did it." I asked her what her finish time was. "11 hours and something." Eleven hours! It's absurd for a race to allow people to finish with such times; it makes every other runner's finish seem worthless. Yet... she did the work; it was a real accomplishment, just not something that even an average runner can accept as being comparable to their own finishing.

That's why we need the term "Quality Finish." A quality finish is achieved by finishing a race in less than twice the course record time - and this does not get divided into genders or age classes. Most ultramarathons have cut-offs that are about twice the course record, whether it's the Hardrock 100 (23:23 vs. 48 hours) or the JFK 50 Mile (5:40 vs. 12 hours. But notice that they're now allowing early starts and 14 hours!) Triathletes talk about the 17 hour barrier, which is required for finishing the Kona Ironman (record just under 8:04). In the 1970's, marathons shut off their clocks at 4:30 (about twice the course records), because few people ran marathons that weren't capable of running 10 minute miles.

We can't stop races from extending cut-offs to ridiculous times and we can't stop people from finishing races after we've had a meal, driven home and had a shower and a nap. We can, however, create a standard for what is "respectable." Twice the course record is respectable.

So, when people tell you they finished a race, ask them "Quality finish?"


Colin said...

I disagree -- I don't feel my finish is worthless just because somebody else took 11 hours to do a marathon (just being active for 11 hours is impressive, especially for somebody over 300 pounds!).

I also think you at least need to separate into genders and age classes. E.g. Judy Cronen ran 8:07 at last year's Rice Street Mile at age 70, well over twice the open standard. In my mind that is extremely respectable (it age grades the same as a sub-5:10 for a 50-year-old man, and faster than anything I've ever run).

As far as I'm concerned everyone is welcome at the races I run as long as they follow the event rules and don't get in the way of faster runners. There are plenty of reasons to race besides finishing near the front; ours doesn't need to be an exclusive sport!

SteveQ said...

Colin, a twelve hour race costs about twice as much to direct as a six hour race. Why should faster runners pay twice as much just to allow someone to take 12 hours?

Judy's mile and the 300 lb woman's marathon are both respectable - for them - and I'm not saying they shouldn't be there or that races should necessarily shut off the clocks earlier. Oddly, in 1986, I was castigated for telling Judy to move out of the front row of the Get In Gear or I'd run over her (she didn't, I did, and I never heard the end of it).

Ours is the only sport where everyone can compete with world-class athletes. I'm just saying there should be a standard between Olympic Qualifier and finisher.

SteveQ said...

Btw, Judy was close to a Quality Finish, but a 28 year-old woman took 43 minutes to finish that same 1 mile. Perhaps that was the hardest thing she ever did, but still... 43 minutes?

Karen said...

I'm not sure there needs to be a term at all. If it matters so much to someone, they can always ask the person's time, right?

What bothers me is the word "Quality", I just wonder how they can or should draw a line to say what precise finish time is deemed worthy enough of a "quality finish". I think in a time where obesity practically taking over our society, we should be welcoming people to our sport not trying to exclude them with the assumption that their finish wasn't "quality".

A lot of marathons have different cutoff times as well as entry fees. I run mostly the no-frills races, which often have a 6hr marathon cutoff and are under $100 to enter. I think that is perfectly reasonable.

Most of the people that can't make the 6hr cutoffs for this type of race often prefer the Rock-N-Roll and fancy races where it is more about the adventure of being with others than a finish time. And if they want an all-day party with music and Gatorade, let them. It just means I won't be signing up for a majorly expensive race because I'm more in it for challenging myself against the clock.

Anonymous said...

I get called elitist, but consider other sports. There's beginner's soccer where they don't keep score and everyone gets a medal for participation and that's great. But there's also competitive events. In running, either you're elite or beginning; there's no inbetween. No frills races are disappearing quickly around here, because there's money to be made with frills. In Minneapolis, the city had to limit races to two per month per park because every charity, every school and every organization wants to have a fundraiser 5K.

SteveQ said...

Call me elitist, but there has to be something between world-class and beginner. In soccer, there's beginner leagues where they don't keep score and everyone gets an award for participation, but there's also real competitive matches at a number of levels. In running, there's the Olympics and everyone else.

No frills races are disappearing. In Mpls., they've set a limit of two races per park per month, because every charity, every school and avery organization wants to have a 5K fundraiser.

Karen said...

Qualifying for Boston is a pretty good halfway point between beginner and Olympics, isn't it?

And I bthink there's another marathon that same weekend that has qualifying times 5 min faster and doesn't allow charity runners.

A lot of marathons will put you in a corral based on a previous time or your anticipated finish, so basically that pits you at whatever "level" you currently compete in.

My area doesn't have a running community comparable to MSP, but all club members get the majority of the races free. And our two local marathons cost $60 to run (Avenue of the Giants and Humboldt Redwoods).

Trail races seem to be the best per mile bargain out there and their snacks and views are infinitely better than roads! :)

Detroit Runner(Jeff) said...

I'm now sure I agree on twice the fastest time but I do agree there needs to be a cutoff. I hate when people say "I did a marathon" and then find an 11 hour time. I even read an article online how anyone can do a marathon. Sure they can but it's a race and 11 hours is not a race. If people start thinking anyone can do it, respect for the distance is lost.

Anonymous said...

I think most sports and many things in life out things / people into grades or categories.

When I played softball I was in a "D" league.

When I played Volleyball I was in a Single "A" league. "AA" and "AAA" are better.

Yet in running a lot of people like to lump all runners in the same group. Sure there is the OA winner and Age Group Winners, but after that - We all get the same medal for "Finishing" a marathon.

If I brag to a golfer that I shot 150 for 18 holes a Pebble Beach - He would laugh at me ... why waste the money if you are that much of a hacker. (Golfers talk about their handicap)

If I tell a bowler I was proud of my 51 game and 130 series (3 games) - It would be absurd. (Bowlers either talk about their average or handicap)

It does not mean that each of the examples I gave were not quality finishes for me personally ... but to the people who do the sport they would not meet a minimum standard to be taken seriously.

I am all for people working on goals and getting more fit. Most people check off that marathon goal and then turn their back on fitness.

Most runners have a measuring stick in their mind on how they measure others performances - It might not be done on purpose - But they make judgements. Their personal performance usually has something to do with how they apply this measuring stick.

At some point you become an event participant and not a racer or an athlete.

I am not sure why people take offense to being called participants. 3+ hour 1/2 marathoner is a participant, not a runner or a racer ... unless they are 80+.

Long way of saying I generally agree with Steve on this one.

Michael Henze

If you do not like the exact way it is being measured - 2x course record ... It does not mean the idea does not have merit.

One of the easiest ways would be to age grade something.

Anonymous said...

I write an online book that 12 people buy.

You write a book that 10,000,000 people buy and wins many awards.

We are both authors ... Kindred spirits.

My accompishment must be "Worth" as much as yours ... or is it worth less than yours. Not Worthless ... Worth less.

Michael Henze

Karen said...

I like Michael's idea of runner vs. participant. Sounds better than trying to judge "quality" or not. In general, I'm fine with making a distinction, but have a problem with the terminology.

I've heard people make that distinction for themselves too: "I ran a marathon!" (usually people finishing in five hrs or less) and "I finished a marathon!" (my walker friends)...

Richard said...

I agree with Steve about quality and Mike about participant. I am a participant but I keep the dream of being a quality runner in my mind to push me to better each time. But thank god for allowing the participants otherwise I would never get that chance to learn from a race to come back better the next time.

JojaJogger said...

Well, looks like I have exactly zero quality performances among my 27 ultra and 9 marathon finishes.

sea legs girl said...

I'm tyring to figure out here if the whole issue, Steve, is that races should not be forced to go on forever, waiting for people to finish. I think everyone agrees with that here (ha. At least if you've been a volunteer or race director).If there's not a reasonable time limit, the cost of racing will be prohibitive for most and only include rich people. And that wouldn't be good either! That being said, I am amazed by a woman weighing 300 lbs traversing 26.2 miles and imagine that race is contuinuing to motivate her in her pursuit of health. Perhaps the walking or slow marathon will be a thing of the future that simply costs more because of the time involved. Interesting topic.

SteveQ said...

@SLG: It gives one pause to wonder how someone could train for and finish a marathon and STILL be 300 pounds.

I have a really long rant I feel like writing, but I'll let it wait a bit.

Anonymous said...

It's a great discussion Steve. My first few efforts at commenting grew way too long. To cut to the chase, I think we need both kind of runners. The camaraderie before and after the race is remarkable, especially at small races. I love mingling with so many different people, even though I usually run alone for most of the race. Judging from Afton too, there were a lot of happy runners, at the front of the pack and just ahead of the sweeps.

John K.

stillwaterrunner said...

Steve, I too rankle when I hear someone has "run" a marathon in 6 hours. Or when I pass the walking/chatting ladies at Afton. I thought this was a race?

I tend to be a prideful person and try to take that out of the equation to judge clearly. Some people go to races for different reason than I. I can accept that. I just don't get it.

Creating a "quality" finish may comes across a bit too assuming or demeaning. The 6 hr marathoner may leave everything on the course, while a 2:30 person might come in just under 3. Who had the quality finish?

I do like the differentiation though; like the 24hr buckle. Having a "quality" cutoff would create a standard to which some of the slower racers could strive for; kind of like the BQ.

BTW, what does IMHO stand for regarding the Afton Hill? I want to curse it properly.

SteveQ said...

@stillwaterrunner: texting abbreviation for "in my humble opinion." My favorite name for that hill is "KOM" - can't publish what that stands for here!

Deb said...

I could not disagree more. Everyone who wants to deserves to be out there, whether they finish a marathon in 2:50 or 11:50. Some people are more athletically gifted than others, or are willing to spend enormous amounts of effort to get there. Others have less aptitude and interest or different priorities and they are NOT willing to devote their lives to that "quality finish". I see what you're saying about race expenses. It IS unreasonable to expect roads to be closed for so long, volunteers to stay out ALL day, etc. I'm sure the woman about whom you spoke did not have an "official" finish time - I can't imagine the course staying open 11 hours. She likely just kept track of her own time. Either way, I think it's an INCREDIBLE achievement for someone that overweight to beat the odds, persevere despite the pain and accomplish her goal. Her 11 hour finish in no way diminishes MY time, or any other runners. I gotta say, Steve, you're sounding kinda judgmental here.