Why I won’t miss “The Penguin” (running)

Workout notes: ZERO. I’ll do 3-4 miles with the group tonight; that’s it. Damn…I am going crazy though my body isn’t as energetic as I hoped it would be.

The Penguin Yes, a famous author and “middle of the pack” runner is retiring from his column. He was known as the author of the column The Penguin Chronicles which was featured in Runner’s World magazine.

He (and Jeff Galloway, who was once an elite runner) are associated with the movement in the “second running boom” in which running races transformed from events for the very fit to events for the very average. Not everyone was happy with this transformation though others have pointed out that the younger, more intense individuals have gravitated toward different events, such as adventure racing and trail racing. There is some evidence for that conjecture; I know that while I still finish somewhere between the upper 50’th to 75’th percentile in running faces (at least those 10K or shorter), I am often close to DEAD LAST at trail running events.

But I digress.

As far as “The Penguin” I can say this:

1. His columns were well written. (at least the ones that I’ve sampled)
2. The one talk I heard (at the Fox Cities Marathon/Half Marathon) was well put together and entertaining
3. He seemed to inspire many new, unathletic people to try the sport. Note: by “unathletic”, I mean those who lack the genetic potential to be a competitive athlete; I consider myself to be in that category.

As far as the effect of new road races being populated by new people? From my very narrow, self centered point of view, I see good and bad:

1. There are more races to choose from; hence I can usually find something that fits into my schedule. In the old days, it was “like it or lump it”.
2. The staple distance is 5K, which suits my body type better than the 10K. I lift weights and weigh 180-190 pounds and tend to wear down at 40-45 minutes if I am running hard. In the old days, the staple distance was 10K.
3. The time limits for the long distances are much longer. In the old days, the usual time limit for a marathon was 4:30 to 5 hours or so. Now 6-7 hour time limits are common. That enables me to show up and walk the distance and still beat the cut offs. And if I have a bad day, I still have time to recover at an aid station and beat the time limit.

I remember running (or attempting to run) a marathon back in 1983; I showed up overweight (210 pounds) and out of shape. It took me 4:24 to finish and several times, the sag wagon driver asked me if I wanted a ride. I stubbornly refused. In THOSE days, that was a horrible time.

As I’ve aged, I’ve really grown to appreciate the longer time limits.

4. There are a LOT more women entering races. Sure, some of the good is the “hubba hubba” effect (since I’ve slowed down, I see a LOT more larger spandex wrapped asses in running races) but, even if they wore skorts or the dreaded “long shirts”, I still like women being there. They add to the event. My first marathon had 2229 male and 201 female finishers. Note: the median male time was 3:36; median female time was 4:05.

1. When a community gets “less exclusive” then there is less of an ego boost in being a part of it.

2. I enjoyed the old “performance oriented” atmosphere of the old days. I remember talking to the owner of a shoe store; he asked me how my Chicago Marathon went. I told him my time (3:46) and he winced in sympathetic pain; he understood how disappointed I was. Yes, for a male my age (38 at the time) at with my 5K (just under 20 minutes), that was a pretty stinky time. I blew up at mile 20. To me, “finishing” wasn’t that big of a deal; I knew that I could finish. I had a performance goal and it hurt to fail to meet it…and those around me UNDERSTOOD the disappointment.

3. Some of the races: too many bells and whistles. I want a reasonably accurate course, protection against auto traffic and a reasonable number of aid stations (5K: none at all; marathon: every 3-4 miles is good; very 5 miles is ok). I don’t care about bands, “goodies” “bling” for finishing (I outgrew my need for gold stars in kindergarten), age group awards, etc.

Now I admit that I do like the “chip times’, mostly so I can see if I really did “beat” the smart-ass who out kicked me at the end. 🙂

4. I find that the level of “entitlement” has gone up; I get nauseated when people start complaining that, say, a half marathon doesn’t have a finisher’s medal. Seriously? What’s next: finisher’s medals for our training runs or warm up jogs? In the old days, such attitudes were not welcome at races; “suck it up buttercup” was the attitude of the day.


“The Penguin” had a saying: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Of course, I think that this is ridiculous; anyone can “start” something (witness my slew of half finished mathematics papers; oh, I have some finished ones too 🙂 ) But that saying did give rise to another saying that was tossed around by my “performance oriented” running friends. Note: NONE of us were really “good” runners; for us, a 3:10 to 4 hour marathon was typical; most of us are much slower than that now.

But we cared enough about our performance to actually do some consistent training. And, when we reached our goals, we got congratulated. But when we flopped, we understood each other’s pain.

But we did needle each other too. For example, I was training for a sub 20 5K, but blew up on race day and ended up with 21:xx. My friends: “hey, you had the COURAGE TO START”…which eventually became “THAT was a “courageous” performance. 🙂 I love it.


June 3, 2015 - Posted by | marathons, running | , ,


  1. On balance, I see a lot more good than bad. I do wince at the high entry fees, though. The races are more inclusive for slow-pokes, less so for poor folk.

    Comment by Ray Sharp | June 3, 2015 | Reply

    • That is very true; I think that our local “big race” (steamboat 4 mile, 15K) has a program in which one can donate a race entry for a poor person.

      There are a few inexpensive races but these tend to be in rural locations where they don’t do the inner city poor any good.

      A long time ago, there were a few “dollar entry” public track meets and a “dollar” entry runner’s club fun runs midweek.

      Comment by blueollie | June 3, 2015 | Reply

  2. Joe Galloway?

    Comment by Dr. Andy | June 4, 2015 | Reply

    • Fixed. Thanks for the correction. 🙂

      Comment by blueollie | June 4, 2015 | Reply

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