Why Aren't there more Matt Dahls in marathoning? The 42k question, by Elliott Denman

2014 TCS NYC Marathon is off, men's start, photo by PhotoRun.net

Elliott Denman has seen the sport from many venues: in 1956, Elliott was an Olympic race walker, and since that time, Elliott has waxed poetically about our sport, from the indoor tracks , to the cross country race to the chilly day that was the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. 

Elliot Denmann poses a good question, without a quick answer: where have all the young men gone? 

 On one hand, Matthew "Matt" Dahl  placed "only" 118th in the TCS New York City Marathon.

 On the other hand, he beat out 50,751 others in the five-borough trek to the finish line at Tavern on the Green in Manhattan's Central Park.

 On one hand, he covered the 26.2 miles in "only" two hours, 39 minutes and 39 seconds.

In brutally windy conditions, of course.

  On the other hand, he placed 14th of all Americans in the men's 25-29 age bracket and left an armada of contemporaries in the dust.

   On one hand, it was only the second full marathon race of his life.

   On the other hand,  he knows that experience is a handy-dandy thing but not really every darn thing.

     On one hand, at his age of 27, he should be in the prime of a runner's life.

   On the other hand, Matt Dahl took two full years off from running after a quality collegiate career in track and cross country.

  So what's the point of this exercise?

  So let us tell you that the road running/marathon world badly needs a whole more people like Matt Dahl.

  Very-very sadly, a typical men's field for a major marathon field like New York can be be broken down - always - into just a handful of ever-so-predictable groups.

  (A)  At the front of the pack - always - will be the small coterie of international elites, who monopolize the headlines, the TV focus and, most importantly, the prize money.

    Yes, the people like Wilson Kipsang (2:10:59) of Kanya, Lelisa Desisa (2:11:06) and Gebre Gebremariam (2:13:13) of Ethiopia, Meb Keflezighi (2:12:18) of USA, and Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda (2:13:25), who placed 1-2-2-4-5.

  (B) Maybe three-quarters-of-an-hour back of these elites, these pros -  always - will be the semi-serious runners who have no hope in the world of ever winning one of these things, but still turn in respectable performances.

 (C)   And maybe an hour-and-a-half back - and more - of those leaders - always - come the vast multitudes, the thundering herds, the average guys who've fueled the whole marathon explosion, who've made possible the rewards in dollars and attention awaiting the runners up front-and-center.

  There really should be a huge delegation in the category we might call either A-minus or B-plus. 

  Yes, Matt Dahl's category.

  But there just isn't.

 These numbers the story.

  Just 2,593 runners in the 25-29 division finished the race.

  But there were multiples of that figure in the older groups - the ones some wise-guy kids might call the over-the-hill groups.

  Check these figures - 5.009 35-39-year-old men finished the race; 5,985 40-44-year-olds got to Tavern on the Green; 4,744 45-49-year-olds got over all the bridges and all the boroughs;  3,845 50-54-year-olds ran all the avenues, Fourth in Brooklyn, First in Manhattan, Willis and Madison into the Bronx and back,  and on to the Tavern.

  The point we're driving at:  There's simply relatively minuscule representation these days for the still-youngish runners who aren't good enough/fast enough/dedicated enough to be pro elites. They may profess they still love the game, they may say they want to "hang in there" best they can, given the real-life constraints of jobs, careers, families and all manner of serious considerations, but they - by and large - just don't.

   They just don't find the way.

    They just don't follow the enlightened footsteps of runners like Matt Dahl.
   He was a quality runner - 1:57ish 800s, 4:18 1600s - but not a conference champion, a sectional champion, or a state champion at New Jersey's Raritan High School.

   He was a quality runner - 14:39 5,000 meters, 25:45 8K cross country - but never a superstar for the Rider University Broncs of the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference.

   He took a two-year sabbatical from the running game following graduation - until he realized he loved it too much to stay away any longer.

  By now holding down a major job as an operations manager at WABC Radio in New York - he laced up the old training flats and built a running program into his busy daily routine.   Yes, there were enough hours in the day to register some decent miles after all.

   And so Matt Dahl can call himself a runner once again - not a pro, not an elite, but not a jogger, either.

He has some major ambitions now.   

He's already planning to celebrate Patriot's Day in Boston next April.   He's already thinking sub-2:30.  He's already looking in the mirror and telling himself - again - "there's a real athlete."

 But why aren't there more Matt Dahls out there?

  Where have all his scholastic and collegiate contemporaries fled to?

 Why have they told themselves they'd crossed too many finish lines to
re-savor the "high" of getting to yet another?

  Why do tell themselves this was a sport for "the kids" when all the evidence
points in a contrary direction?

 Why can't they see it the way Matt Dahl now sees it?

  Why can't they reach Matt Dahl's own conclusions - that he "missed running so much," that he'd "done it for so many years and it was still so much fun,"  that now that he's lacing 'em up and pinning on the numbers,  he's "having a blast."




Call it the 26.2-mile / the 42K question.

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