CLINE: The move from performance to participation

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated had an interesting and refreshing story as the major piece of the magazine. Instead of hero worship or myth making, the story -- titled "Mud, Sweat and Beers" -- gets to the heart of something I thought we'd long since lost sight of: The power of participation.

It's a fun read, recounting the different types of races that are popular these days, from triathlons, to Rock 'n' Roll marathons to fun runs called MOBs (for mud, obstacles, beer). But the crux of the story is: The mentality these days is it's better to have run and lost than not to have run at all. It's a point that extends nicely well beyond the racing world.

Ever meet one of those people who say: "If I'm not good at it, I won't do it?" This is the antithesis of that. This is about competing against yourself; about the saying you've heard: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is I had the courage to start."

The message is good. The fact that it appears in Sports Illustrated is even better, even more legitimate.

The article says that the number of frequent runners (frequent defined as someone who runs 100 or more days a year) hasn't increased in more than 30 years, but the participation in various road racing has increased dramatically. Add the fact that the average marathon finish has gotten 40 minutes slower over the past three decades, according to Rob Klingensmith of the ACTIVE network, and it's not hard to tell that participation is trumping performance.

"There's a whole range of why people are signing up for these events," Klingensmith told SI. "But I don't think performance ranks very high on the list."

The SI piece has some great stories, big personalities and funny tidbits from national races. But we all know people who would have also fit well in this article. The mother of three who does the Couch to 5K program and winds up running a marathon. The big guy who isn't much of a runner, but becomes a fixture at local 5Ks. The dog lover who competes with her canine friend. The family member who honors a loved one's memory. The friends who run in honor of a sick co-worker.

Sure, winning your age group is great. And setting a personal best is always the goal. But the new running craze is more personal, more about showing yourself you can accomplish something. That you can finish the drill, as Georgia football coach Mark Richt likes to say. As one runner told SI: "You don't have to be an elite athlete to achieve an elite goal."

The best part of the article to me was the idea that with so many people of so many varying backgrounds, sizes and shapes competing in these races, there is motivation given to so many more people, who can now see someone of their size, shape or background completing one of these challenges they never thought was possible, To paraphrase the story: When you see a guy with a beer gut hanging over his shorts complete a grueling race, you think to yourself: "Maybe I can do that."

In the world of motivation, there isn't five better words.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.