Playing by the rules
a few things that really get under my skin. Right down to
the bone. Like someone cracking their knuckles, or munching on carrots,
celery or apples too close to my personal space. Sets my nerves a-twitchin’.
Then there’s the chance encounter in the hallway with someone
I haven’t seen in a while. Goes something like this.
“Hey, long time no see,” says the person I haven’t
seen in a long time. “Looks like you’re still doing
that running thing.”
“Yeah,” I’ll say. “Keeps me in beer and
“Done any marathons lately?”
“A couple. Did Toronto a few weeks back.”
“Oh yeah. How long’s that one?”
Got plenty of scars on my tongue from all the times I’ve
held back on folks who have a say on the conditions under which
I earn my keep here at the Mother Corp.
A marathon is a marathon is a marathon, I want to say. There are
no 10K marathons, no 10-mile marathons and certainly no marathon
The distance is 26 miles and 385 yards – or 42.195 kilometres
– which is what it’s been since the 1908 Olympics. The
course was lengthened from the original 40K at the 1896 Athens games
so the race could start at Windsor Castle and end in front of the
Royal Box. The International Association of Athletics Federations
officially adopted that as the marathon distance in 1921.
Hockey adopted several rule changes for the current season to make
the game more exciting. But the rules for the marathon have been
pretty much set for more than 80 years. Even with an influx of new
And it’s still a race. One of the only sporting events in
the world where Joe or Jane Average can toe the line with some of
the world’s best. But you gotta follow the rules.
Some members of a group from Toronto didn’t recently. The
Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. is the race of choice
for JeansMarines. The group, run by Dr. Jean Marmereo and her husband,
Bob Ramsay, is dedicated to changing the lives of middle-aged women
by getting them into the exercise habit.
Marmereo has an amazing track record in motivating women –
many of whom had little if any exercise experience – to complete
the Marine Corps Marathon. Under her program, her recruits would
go from the couch in January to the finish line in October.
The Marine Corps Marathon is especially popular with women. The
race is organized and staffed by 3,000 U.S. Marines, and at the
end of it, a big strapping Marine drapes a finisher’s medal
around your neck. Women also get a big hug. The motivation to finish
can be pretty powerful, apparently.
But you have to be able to finish within six hours or else you
are disqualified. This year, some of JeansMarines were in danger
of missing the cutoff time. Marmereo advised them to take a shortcut
that trimmed about four miles off the course.
The shortcut allowed the women to finish on time. They accepted
According to IAAF rules, “In road races, an athlete may leave
the road or track with the permission and under the supervision
of an official, provided that by going off course he does not lessen
the distance to be covered.”
Word leaked out – and within days, message boards on runners’
sites were consumed by the story of cheatin’ charity runners.
You’d think it was the biggest thing since Ben Johnson made
stanozolol a household word.
I asked Ken Parker, the energy behind runnersweb.com and a decent
marathoner in his day, for his take on what happened.
“I think it's sad that anyone would cheat,” Parker
said in an e-mail. “From some of the running communities I
belong to, I know that this issue has served to further alienate
serious runners and the new wave of ‘completers.’ It
will be used as an argument against the practice of allocating spaces
for charity runners.”
Charity runners raise a lot of money for a lot of worthy causes.
This year, the Toronto Marathon – a pretty small race by international
standards – raised $1 million for cancer research. About 5,000
people ran the races that make up that event. More than 10,000 ran
the Marine Corps Marathon.
It’s a major commitment to put in the time and effort to
get into the kind of shape you should be in to finish a marathon.
If you don’t prepare yourself properly, you run the risk of
falling short of your goal. And sometimes even if you’re in
the greatest shape of your life, you can fall short.
On November 17, 2005, Rick Nealis, the race director for the Marine
Corps Marathon, said JeansMarines will be banned from being a charity
partner in the 2006 race “for their lack of professionalism
and unethical conduct.”
It was the right move.
Marmereo eventually apologized and said the focus of her group
would change, so women wouldn’t be rushed into doing a marathon
before they were ready. They’d be encouraged to do shorter
races – maybe a 10K or a half marathon to start. I’d
say that puts the group on the right track.
JeansMarines has a lot of work to do to restore their reputation.
It’s a big goal and may take some time and effort but –
like anything you set your mind to - it’s achievable.
a banner on the JeansMarines website that says “Yes ma’am,
you can do a marathon.”
would be one of those 26-mile-and-385-yard marathons.