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I'm no fan of Oprah, but...

Glad my name's not Edward McClelland. The poor guy's in for three hours and 30 minutes of taunts if he follows through on his promise of running a marathon next spring.

He's done more to anger and unite the running community — if such a thing exists — with five little words: How Oprah ruined the marathon. That's the title of his article that ran on Salon.com last Friday, just before the New York City Marathon.

"America's competitive spirit," he said, "has been wrecked by feel-good amateurs like Oprah whose only goal is to stagger across the finish line."

The letter writers took great exception to his hypothesis, as did blogger after blogger after blogger.

McClelland told CBC News Sunday that what he was really lamenting was that "celebrity joggers" like Oprah Winfrey were diverting attention from the champions of the sport and that she has become more of a role model for marathoners than the champions are.

Frankly the marathon can use any well-known role models. One-tenth of one per cent of North Americans will run a marathon. As a sport, it's not on most people's radar screens. The vast majority of spectators at Canadian marathons are friends, family or people who have already finished the race.

I'm no fan of Oprah, but you've got to admire somebody who takes the incredible step of committing to training for a marathon. Motivating yourself to make positive changes to improve your health and fitness is the tough part. If she inspired millions to take up the sport, well thank you Oprah.

Those millions of people have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charities. Maybe some of that money will find its way to helping out somebody who will one day become one of those elite marathoners.

When Lance Armstrong ran the New York City Marathon in 2006, he said it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Didn't train properly. This year, he shaved 12 minutes off his time and finished the race looking a lot healthier than he did last year. Did the training.

McClelland points out that the average finishing time for a marathon is 45 minutes slower than it was just 25 years ago, when the sport was dominated by people who did little else but run.

But look at the other end: This year at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, John Kelai of Kenya ran the fastest-ever marathon on Canadian soil. The same day, Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie lowered the world record for the distance to 2:04:26.

A week later in Chicago — despite record heat — there was a photo finish as Patrick Ivuti edged Jaouad Gharib in a time of 2:11:11. That finished sparked a debate about whether they should replace the traditional tape at the finish line with the kind of cameras they use for the 100-metre dash.

Like running buddy Steve Sampson told me as we drove out to our long run last Sunday, "never thought we'd have to work on our finish-line lean during training."

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