Tuesday, April 04, 2006

An Honest Mile

As a writer, a good case could be made that I make my living disseminating piffle and rhubarb, balderdash and bullshit, half-truths and half-lies. My craft consists in large parts of smoke and mirrors and deliberate deception. A great attraction for me in running - in this age of manufactured reality television (utterly unreal) programming - is that running is, at least at some basic level and for lack of a better description; honest.

Running is honest. A mile is a mile. You run what you run. And the clock doesn't lie. And 26.2 miles is really 26.2 miles. It is a hard distance to fudge.

There will always be people who cheat of course. Cheating and dishonesty and seeking an unfair advantage are part of the human condition and an increasingly tolerated (if not actually venerated) aspect of the American way of life. Canada is no different. The Olympics and baseball and football and almost all modern sports are rife with them. The cheats that is... Even endurance running has its cheats. The subway and taxi marathoners. But for the most part, running, and running long, hard distances like 26.2 miles is honest. Brutally honest. You have to endure the training, put in the hours and suffer the hard work to get the best results. You have to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. I love that old Adidas Boston Marathon poster - "Everything you ever needed to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles." In fact it has hung on the wall in my office for several years and I (of course not yet) haven't even run Boston. I just agreed with the philosophy behind it.

Hence it kind of pissed me off to read Scooter's Blog - http://scootersweightloss.blogspot.com/2006/03/letter-from-boston.html The idea that fully a quarter and maybe even as many as a third of the field at Boston won't have qualified pisses me off. REALLY pisses me off. Did I mentioned that I was pissed off? Running for charity is a noble endeavour. Writing a big check to a charity to buy a spot in the Boston Marathon is dishonest.

If you want to do something truly altruistic, write the check to the charity of your choice and sponsor a real amateur athlete who has what it takes to qualify for a race with the history and prestige of Boston. That would be a charitable act. That would be the honest thing to do. Buying your way in to a race like the Boston Marathon is no different than cheating.

But when was the last time that lying and cheating and being dishonest carried any sense of shame with it in North America? For the answer, all you have to do is turn on the television. Or read the first page of the newspaper, or the first page of the Financial section, or the first page of the Sports section.

So for every honest amateur runner out there honest enough to actually qualify for the Boston Marathon - I salute you.

I hope I can tell you apart from the people who bought their way in through the front door.

I hope I can tell you apart from the cheaters.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! Truer words have never been spoken. One day I will get there but it will be my own sweat and tears.

9:19:00 AM  
Blogger Haight said...

If that stat is correct, it is a slap in the face to the runner's that sacrificed the blood, sweat and tears (let alone the time commitment) in order to qualify for the Grand Daddy of marathons.

It's like a bogey golfer (like me) writing a check to play in the Masters. Tiger Woods would take his sand wedge and slice my hamstring.

9:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I occasionally read your blog because I feel it highlights the time commitment and determination it takes to not only run a marathon, but to qualify for the extraordinary event that is the Boston Marathon. My opinion has always been that there are plenty of runs you can do for charity. Plenty of marathons even. Boston, however, is sacred. There are people who will try for years, decades even, to qualify and never make the cut. Buying your way in rubs me the wrong way. Congratulations on qualifying. Welcome to the club. I'll see you in Hopkinton!

10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen is right, Vince.

Boston IS sacred.

It is hallowed ground for people who are the heart and soul of marathoning.

Boston is the history and roots of marathoning.

Boston should be revered for what it is, and its prestige and the prestige that comes from earning the right to run there and race there should not be for sale. Not even to the highest bidder.

Why is it these days that all the things we hold up in our culture as our finest qualities suddenly seem up for sale?

Don't we STAND for anything REAL anymore?

I used to laugh at the title of your Blog. I thought the idea of Boston or Bust: One Man's Journey to the Mecca of Marathoning was SO over the top and frankly, a touch melodramatic.

And yet after reading the latest Blog and Scooters and the comments, I think describing Boston as the Mecca of Marathoning barely scratches the surface of the importance of the Boston Marathon in the grand scheme of atletics and road racing and amateur sports in this country.

Boston is a privelege, not a right. You should have to earn it. Period.

People seem to have forgotten the meaning of personal sacrifice. More importantly, they are no longer willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to be successful at something like the Boston Marathon.

Some things you shouldn't be able to pay for with money.

All of the best things in life, the worthwhile things, the things that really matter, have to be paid for with sacrifice and commitment and hard work and blood, and sweat and tears.

3:51:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...


That blows! BTW, how big are these bribes, err, cheques? And besides a lifetime of blood, sweat and tears, how much did you pay to enter the race?

8:32:00 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Well, Vince, you have your response:
Needless to say, I disagree. I hope your tune will change. By the way, the non-qualified runners (except invited athletes) should all be in the second wave, though I don't know what the break is - I suspect they are the last couple or three corrals. I suspect that you can tell by looking at the first two digits, and a number starting with perhaps 15 or higher will likely be a charity runner.

9:52:00 AM  
Blogger Allen said...


I thought that cheating was ones breaking the rules and reaching a goal in an invalid way. If so, then charity runners aren't cheating. They will run with a number. I wonder why you don't direct your anger to the BAA for giving the charity runners numbers. Maybe you have and will post your letter in your blog. The BAA sets the rules. You play by those rules. I play by those rules. The charity runners play by those rules. It's because of respect for those rules that Boston has its great traditions as "the" marathon.

I lived in central Massachusetts for 17 years and ran during all of those years. I never ran Boston because I was too slow. I could have run it without a number, as many did during those years, but I respected the traditions of Boston too much to do that. Do I resent charity runners running Boston with a number? No, I have too much respect for the traditions of Boston for that.

12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Men's open standard for Boston used to be 2:50 back in the 80s. Unless you qualify for that time you too are a liar and a cheater. You are cheating all those runners from way back when who actually had to work HARD to qualify.


Maybe someone needs to break out a dictionary and look up "liar" and "cheater". A liar is someone who says something that is untrue. Don't see any charity runners do that. A cheater is someone who breaks the rules. The BAA is the group that SET the rules and they say it is OK so nope, the charity people aren't that either.

I have run under 2:45 so save your "you must be a charity runner" reply for someone who cares.

There is nothin "sacred" about Boston. It ceased having any possibility of calliing itself that they day they started paying prize money.

Shut up and run you sanctimonious ass.

3:07:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

I think that with the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars, it worked out to about a hundred and fifty dollars Canadian, more or less...

4:28:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Yeah, I have to say that when Hugh told me that the qualifying times for Boston had been relaxed, it made the race less special. If the qualifying time was 2:50, it should have stayed at 2:50. You can either qualify, or you can't. It's a pretty simple either or situation.

The "Sanctimonious Ass" Wanker obviously doesn't get that.

Hey Wanker Boy, why not drop the NBA hoop height two feet so you and every Napoleon-complex five foot three wannabe can dunk?

Or, any number of the other examples posited in the posted comments.

Of course you only have to look at foreign policy around the world these days to realize that all kinds of wankers don't give a damn for "rules", or tradition, or standards anymore.

And when all else fails, you just make the shit up anyways and do what you please.

Stick it up your Platinum Card, buddy.

By the way, now that we've established what you are, the only left to do is negotiate your price...

4:41:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

In one of my responses to a commenter, you'll find me saying, "If you were a Bostonian, how would you feel if your local marathon were CLOSED to you, who wanted to do charity fund raising? Would you complain to your mayor? Town or city council? Boston could have chosen not to permit the charity fund raisers to enter unless qualified. Having them involved in the race changes community perception from "a bunch of running wackos keeping me from getting to the store" to "they're helping to do good work". It can be argued that Boston, by its history shouldn't be subject to community pressure, but it is. Additionally, most big city marathons must deal with just one or two municipal governments, Boston, by virtue of its point-to-point route must deal with 7 (or 8?). Any one of these municipalities could conceivably choose not to permit the marathon to pass and the Boston Marathon, at least as we know it, would cease to exist."
While it can be viewed as a case of the BAA selling out, a single small-minded politico could stop the race, and while huge pressure could be brought to bear, regardless of the eventual outcome, it could hurt the race, and badly. It could be argued that the BAA has knuckled under to or is buying off the local governments, but while perhaps not the most palatable choice, it has proven effective. Were their another big marathon in Boston, a case for maintaining the "purity" of an all qualified race could be made, without it, the case against it is clear.

6:37:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...


Augusta is shut down for the Masters.

France is shut down for the Tour de France.

Ports and harbours all over the world get shut down for the America's Cup.

Lots of cities get shut down for a day or days for major sporting and cultural events.

You are absolutely, resolutely, positively ignoring my main arguement with this endless, rather lame I might add, blathering on about your charities.

I'm simply calling a spade a spade.

Apparently you wouldn't say the word shit if you had a mouthful of it.

I have run many charity events. Had lots of fun doing it. Raised lots of money. I have donated cash and prizes to charity runs on many occasions.

In my life I have donated thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer hours of labour to charity, community and charitable events.

I say all of the above not to cast myself in any good light, because I could give a good God damn about what other people might happen to think of me - but to illustrate the point that I care passionately about such involvements in one's community. It simply make the world a better place to live in for all of us and because it adds to everyone's quality of life.

This my friend, is my arguement.

Boston - in my opinion - is not the place for it.

Some things should not be for sale.

And selling it to charities doesn't make it any more palatable or any more right.

6:57:00 PM  
Blogger Allen said...

Vince, in the beginning Boston had no qualifying times. In order to perform crowd control, the BAA instituted qualifying times. Their intent was good, but a side effect was that they established an "elitist" club. As the crowds got bigger, the BAA tightened its qualifications to be a member of their club.

It seems to me that when the BAA first established qualifying times, they destroyed the sacredness of Boston as a mecca that any runner could pursue. Now, only the elite runners can pursue mecca. Even worse, the BAA caps the entrants at 20,000 so only some of the elite can run. It seems to me that it isn't much of a mecca anymore, except in the minds of the elite and the wannabes who haven't qualified yet.

You say "Some things should not be for sale." Members of the elite always say things like that. I personally like the algorithm used by NY -- get rid of the elitism and use a lottery to control the crowds.
But, we all have our own opinion about this, and there is no "right" or "wrong" to the matter. So, I'm content to go by the rules established by the BAA. They want their race to be for the elite runners. Fine with me. They set the rules, and I'm happy to abide by them. If I were passionate about my views, I would write the BAA a letter, but I'm not. I'm happy to play their game.

7:04:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...


Nothing would make me happier than to debate this with you for hours on end - preferably in a salon where alchol was served, as you make your points like a Gentleman, and in contrast to many others, in a completely civil manner.

Those who know me well - friends and otherwise - are howling as we speak at your description of me as a Member of an Elite.... I mean, ANY elite.

Have you seen the picture that accompanies my Blog?

My biggest problem with the charity runners is not the many - and quite probably the majority - who put in many hours and much work and who raise their funds from many different people. These people do the work of angels. I tip my hat to them.

My problem is with the "Elite" who write a single check to a charity, giving nothing of themselves to the event - or the charity - other than their "money". They get a free pass.

In - and please get this everyone -my opinion, an opinion to which I am entitled to express, thank God -this is wrong.

Best regards, Vince Hemingson

7:49:00 PM  
Blogger Allen said...

Hi Vince,

I appreciate your last post, because, if I understand it correctly, it has clarified what you've been saying and has corrected my misunderstanding of what you've been saying. I went back and reread your original post, and it now has a different message than the one I first received.

I think you said that you don't object to runners "who put in many hours and much work and who raise their funds from many different people" from running Boston without qualifying. You do object to runners who sponsor themselves by collecting money only from themselves and then run Boston without qualifying. As you've been saying, they have bought their way into the race.

If I now understand you, I agree. I think it is morally wrong, but probably legal per the BAA rules, for runners to run Boston that way. Such is life. People who want something different than that intended by "rules" usually find ways to bend the rules to get what they want.

Do I now understand you?

8:42:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Dear Allen,

The misunderstanding is not yours, but mine, for failing to clearly articulate my position.

Yes, my objection is to those who attempt to buy their way into a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle for which others make tremendous personal sacrifices to achieve. Either through qualifying on merit - or perhaps - and because I know how the system really works - say this through gritted teeth, good works.

And "morally" wrong is wrong enough for me. Wrong is wrong. And we can spend many worthy hours, days, months and years, defining what that is...

I am, as I hope are many other people, sick and tired of people who try to finagle their way through life by splitting hairs and finding loopholes in the fine-print.

Barry Bonds. Right? Or Wrong? It wasn't illegal.

President Clinton. It depends on what your definition of "is" is.

Secretary Rumsfeld, "It is what it is." Fungible?

President Bush. Where do you stop and start?

Tom Delay and Mr. Abramson.

Tobacco lobbyists.

Halliburton. Enron. World Com.

Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, politicians and athletes of every stripe, colour and creed, the list is seemingly endless...

We should hold up a few things to be sacred, because so few things are any more.

Obviously from the posts, comments and additional torrents of e-mails I've received from people decrying the current state of the Boston Marathon, my idea of what the Boston Marathon means no longer really exists.

I think the world is a lesser place for that.

I think we understand each other perfectly.

Best, Vince

9:59:00 PM  
Blogger Allen said...

"I think we understand each other perfectly."

Not just understand, but agree!

Your journey to Mecca is almost finished, and I wish you the best as you run! I've dreamed of running Boston for 33 years. I've reached the coveted age of 70 and its lower qualifying time, so maybe in four or five years I'll make serious attempts to qualify. Right now I'm getting used to long distance running again. I'm planning on doing a half in August, and I'm hoping 2007 will be the year I run my next marathon, after being away from it for 24 years. By the time I'm ready to seriously try to qualify, I'll be looking at a 4:45 time (if I'm still alive and still running by then :) )

11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Anthony Epp said...

With all this talk of what is the "right" vs. "wrong" way to get to Boston, I have to agree that it is not so much the "Boston" marathon that we covet but the journey it takes to get there. Overcoming whatever challenges to meet the goal time, that's what Boston is. Honestly, the race itself is just a hard marathon - watch out, Boston marathoners-to-be, because this marathon is the ultimate seducer and killer of PB dreams :).
Anyway, more to the point:
The Boston Marathon is a symbol of your accomplishments. You will get your goosebumps and nervousness from knowing, at 11:59am on Patriots Day, that you worked your ass off (literally) to get to this point and to "earn" the right. If the guy next to you got a charity spot with his/her visa (although highly unlikely since he/she'd only be in your corral with a previous marathon time close to yours - they are sticklers for that in Boston) - then he/she can't possibly get the same emotion out of this than you. So, bid those people a good race and keep on your game...
The wonderful thing about what you said about a "mile being a mile" is that you control the race for you. Your accomplishment is honest, pure and heroic.
As a Boston Marathoner myself, I initially was surprised to see people with finishing times in the upper 5 hour mark. How could they have gotten to Boston with times like that?
When I ran it, though, it was my race. I knew what I had done to get there. I knew the race that qualified me... And I knew my training made me deserving of this honour.
There are plenty of those out there who get the jobs we deserve, the girls we deserve (:, the lottery ticket winner that we deserve, etc. It's not fair, but when we know we deserve the praise and recognition we receive, then it makes it more sweet.
Take heart in this, Vince. Nobody will ever argue you didn't earn your way in. Nobody will ever debate the pure honesty of your accomplishment.
Not those who know you and have been with you on this journey.
Mecca awaits! Watch out for the Wellesley College Girls and be sure to remind THEM, at least, that you earned your way in :)!
Cheers, mate

9:35:00 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

I have to say that I agree with you that those who make a charitable donation THEMSELVES and do not go to the effort to collect from others violate the intent of the BAA. Imagine the money they could collect if (and I think it's likely) their friends are of similar means. I stand by my point that they are there within the rules, but I do have to agree that while not violating the letter of the rules, they violate the spirit. Perhaps Boston should require the charitable fund raisers to provide a copy of their tax return and the charitable money raised for Boston must be 5% or more of their last year's income. (OK, it's an unrealistic thing, but it makes you wonder how much more good could be done?)

Meantime, I think we can both walk away winners in this debate. I've agreed that those who simply buy their way in, without the work of either training to qualify or the labor of making the (fundraising) ask, are, to some extent, tainted in their participation.

I win the point that in most cases, the bona fide "good works" of many of the charitable runners does make their toeing the line at Hopkinton legitimate.

I'd also like to publicly thank those who weighed in on this debate, especially Allen Leigh, who managed to pick up on the nuance that I'd missed. (The difference between writing a check and collecting for charity.) Thank you all.


10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Matt said...


I think calling the charity runners "cheaters" is a bit over the top, however I do understand your position on this topic. Part of the prestige of running Boston is having to qualify for it. I'm not against charities either but including runners with those who qualified seems to devalue the prestige of qualifying.

The great thing about qualifying times for road races is that it helps runners set goals and aspires them to achieve a higher standard. This, in turn, improves the sport as whole. Perhaps there should be a qualifying standard for the charity runners as well. This certainly is a controversial issue but at least people are talking about it.

Good luck at Boston,

The Professional Runner

11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You still DA Man, bro!

1:53:00 PM  
Blogger 給飛行 said...

Affiliating with a charitable organization in order to gain entry to the Boston Marathon is not charity.

Similarly, those who do so are not cheaters because the BAA explicitly allows it, for whatever reason.

How do you feel about those who bandit at the Boston Marathon?

8:11:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...


9:02:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Defining "cheat" and "cheaters" -

Listen, all you dumb motherf**kers out there who keep attempting to lecture me on the English language and its meanings.

I will hand you your testicles on a platter.

I will tear you a new rectal orifice.

I use words with purpose and meaning.

Unlike most of you dumb bastards who log on, I can actually spell and I know that grammar is not Mom's Mother.

9:07:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Oxford English Dictionary.

cheat * verb

1. act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage

2. deprive of something by deceitful or unfair means

3. avoid (something undesireable) by luck or skill: she cheated death in a spectacular crash

Or, you mentally challenged simpletons: he cheated the qualifying requirements of the Boston Marathon by writing a large personal cheque to a charity

* noun

1. a person who cheats

2. an act of cheating

Are you following any of this, or do I need to explain this as well?

9:14:00 PM  
Anonymous dogfish dave said...

Hi Vince,

Still playing the cantankerous old fucker I see :-) Ah well, its the taper getting to you m'boy.

Seriously though, I have to agree with Anthony Epp' s comments. It doesn' t really matter how anybody else comes to be at the start line, your journey is yours alone. You know what you have done to get there, but you don' t need to wear a big badge to prove it ...to whom?? and why??

And even if there are people who can buy a place they still have to run the distance, and they can' t cheat on that (easily).

As my old man used to say "get the fuck out my way!" oh no, that was another time, I mean "don' t let the bastards grind you down".

Enjoy the day, don' t let the negativity sap your energy...we are with you all the way.

Oh yeah, sorry about the swearing, but you started it :)

5:00:00 AM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Oui, c'est vrai.

My extensive use of Anglo-Saxon expletives drives my poor Mother to distraction, and probably rightly so...

"A man with your vocabulary should easily be able to express himself in a manner that..."

Well, you get the picture.

8:59:00 AM  

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