Not everything in life is about winning or losing materialistic trophies. This new generation is full of people who want to be active, but not necessarily competitive. It’s full of people who want to have fun, enjoy camaraderie and focus on the social aspect of running.
As Kevin Helliker recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the college-age generation is the youngest and should be the most competitive physically, they often rank as the slowest age group in running events. While this generation might seem lacking in competitive drive, the most important thing to note is that we’re heading for a rewarding experience that lies beyond crossing the finish line first.
As Helliker sees it, the problem is that kids these days just don’t care about race times anymore, citing the rising phenomenon of untimed race events such as The Color Run and Tough Mudder. But rather than viewing this “apathy” as “emblematic of the state of America’s competitiveness,” this change is symbolic of a generation whose focus spans far beyond a number to the true heart of the matter. This new generation is redefining the meaning of sports.
Non-traditional races have taken the nation by storm since 2009, according to the industry tracking organization Running USA. From The Color Run, Color Me Rad and zombie-themed Run for Your Lives to the Tough Mudder, Diva Half Marathon and Warrior Dash, the appeal of crawling through mud, jumping off platforms into ice-cold water and running through explosions of rainbows has only grown stronger. Runner’s World reported that The Color Run has become the largest 5K event series in the nation, counting 600,000 finishers in 2012.
Helliker said that the rapidly growing interest in these events reflects a “declining competitiveness of young endurance events,” a reason he contended is “why America hasn’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004.” This generalized criticism is sorely mistaken.
Instead of making this a negative trend, dooming and foreboding, the silver lining should be considered — sure, this generation isn’t as hard-core as the last, but it’s brought more runners to the finish line, a feat in itself for a nation facing obesity issues; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese.
This generation has fostered passion in more people to get out there and make running not just a race, but a lifestyle. More unathletic people are feeling the support and accessibility to run races with professionals. More than 60 percent of the 2012 participants of The Color Run were first-time 5K runners, according to the Color Run website. As a sport, running is experiencing huge growth, with these novel racing series inspiring new athletes, Runner’s World said. This year, The Color Run anticipates 1 million runners in 120 U.S. cities and 30 countries. Running USA reported that the number of U.S. race finishers has increased 80 percent since the year 2000, and female representation has increased from only 42 percent to an all-time high of 56 percent in 2012.
Robert Johnson, a founder of LetsRun.com, also has criticized the trend of uncompetitive runs. “If you’re going to get just as much praise for doing a four-hour marathon as a three-hour, why bother killing yourself training?” Johnson asked. Johnson does not see that the participants — mostly new runners, not hard-core athletes — are simply looking for inspiration. Running is a sport about internal struggle, striving not only to beat others’ times, but one’s own — “winning” is nothing without having fun.
The Color Run website says that “the Happiest 5K on the Planet” is “less about your 10-minute mile and more about having the time of your life.” The Tough Mudder website also calls obsession over finishing times “lame.” These events have to do with things beyond competition. They are inspiring a love for running and a celebration of healthiness and happiness.
Valerie Yu is a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and English.
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