Slow Economy, Faster Marathons, from WSJ.com, Note by Larry Eder

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There was a well written column on WSJ.com, published today, titled, Slow Economy: Faster Marathons: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204261704574274070492669550.html. In the article, the writer, Reed Albergotti does a very nice job at suggesting that a recent slowdown in the economy might be one of the reasons why there has been a rather large upswing in the speed that citizen runners are running marathons.

In order to prove his hypothesis, Mr. Albergotti went to a website called www.athlinks.com, which keeps track of the race finishing times of many, many runners. The folks at www.athlinks.com noticed an huge amount of improvement among marathoners times from 2008 to this year! They equated that to a very strong increase, 4.6 percent in numbers of people qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which, besides being the world's most iconic marathon, Boston has a qualifying time, in five year brackets, for male and female marathoners.

This increase in performances could be due to more time spent by runners who are not out chasing the American dream. In tough times, some people drink more, some people run more. They're probably right, and we have some recent historical figures to help with that theory. In truth, if one spends more time training for the marathon, within reason, the runner will run a more efficient and perhaps, faster marathon. Get those long runs in, and watch your marathon time improve. Gently pick up your weekly mileage and watch the quality of your training improve.

This has happened before. In the late seventies, in a piece in Runners World, I recall a piece on runners who broke 2:20 for the marathon. Most were either unemployed, or in graduate school, or both. History does repeat, contrary to words of the song, History Never Repeats by the Splint Enz.

If one remembers back to 1974-1975, the economy was having some serious issues. Music was good; Steely Dan, Blue Oyster Cult, but, not much else.If one was just out of college, or going into college, one might have taken the longest route approach--staying in school to avoid the poor job market.

One runner who took advantage of that was know then as Will Rogers, at least in his first national agate results. Bill Rodgers had been working in a mental hospital, but soon found himself out of work, after helping to organize a union, if my memory is correct. Bill took the extra time, as there was no job in sight, and trained, twice a day, six days a week, with a long run on Sundays. He gave up cigarettes and a few hours at the local watering hole for more training.In April 1974, Rodgers dropped out of the race in his hometown, Boston. He spent the next year running and training, getting into better and better shape. He graduated from the indoor YMCA track to the roads around Boston with his friends.

First time we heard about him was the US Winter XC trials in 1975, then his third in Morocco in March 1975, then his glorious run on Boston in April 1975. Here's a picture, courtesy of the BAA (thanks, Jack Fleming), of a motivated, unemployed college graduate, and the results of some tough winter miles and their effect on someone with extraordinary drive:

1975_MARfin_Rodgers%2CBill.jpg

Photo courtesy of the Boston Athletic Association

I am not saying that if one runs like Bill Rodgers they will race like Bill Rodgers, but a few more miles or a little more time for a walk is a good thing. Although, having lost jobs twice, I do not wish that pain on anyone.

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