The percentage of the population that will complete a marathon during their lifetime has dramatically increased. At the same time the average marathon time has also dramatically increased. On the one hand this is great. More people are getting out of the house and participating in a group activity to increase fitness. In a day and age when poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle are rampant, getting people involved in an activity to counteract that is often difficult. Physical exercise, is a critical component of both physical health as well as mental health. Marathons provide goals for people to strive towards and a sense of accomplishment once they reach them. In many ways the increased number of people finishing marathons, even at a slower rate, is fantastic.
On the other hand this is also troubling. One likely reason for the increase in average marathon times is that people are entering races with less preparation than in previous decades. This is unfortunate as there seems to be a move towards treating the marathon as a bucket list item rather than a culmination of adequate and meticulous training. I had a professor who used to call examinations “celebrations of learning”. In many ways I think that in school, in running, and in life, this is a much healthier attitude to have. Today, in schools as well as in marathons there are large numbers of people who desire the external validation of a diploma, an award, or medal, rather than the internal validation of knowing they learned something or became stronger through the process of diligent planning and execution. While the external validations can be helpful measures of our progress or how our efforts compare to those around us, the internal validation, the internal compass, is far more important to long term success and development as a human being. Any idiot can fill a shelf with awards, degrees, medals, and ribbons. However the real rewards are in watching all the hours in practice, all the hours of work, all the hours of study come together into a thing of excellence. Diligently pursuing meaningful skills day after day is the way to excellence. The external validators are merely artificial finish lines and illusory goal lines. Do things that matter.