Is Team in Training ruining marathons?

Photo courtesy of Larry Johnson

Here we go again with yet another article talking about how all us average marathoners are ruining the sport for the ‘real’ runners.  I was intrigued by this NPR article written by Asma Khalid, Marathons, Once Special, Are Now Crowded because it features an athlete, Rachel Couchenour, training for her first marathon with Team in Training:

After a sorority sister was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Couchenour decided to join the charity running group Team in Training. The organization raises money for leukemia and lymphoma research.

The article goes on to describe how Team in Training has had a hand in the growth of marathons:

“These training programs are the pipeline for this growth,” says Ryan Lamppa of the research group Running USA.

“They can take that new runner from unfit to finish a marathon in 3 to 6 months,” he says. “They opened up the sport to mainstream America.”

So far, so good. Team in Training is a great organization that takes people from zero to 26.2 miles and at the same time raises money to fight blood cancer. The article also talks about how more and more people are qualifying for the Boston Marathon as a result of these efforts, but it loses me when it gets to this comment about the dilution of the sport:

And while the folks who host the Boston Marathon are also happy that more people are running, they worry that as mainstream American joins the race, amateurs will dilute Boston’s prestige — especially if the fastest runners are locked out because they miss the sign-up.

The Boston Marathon requires athletes to run qualifying times which are no small feat to accomplish. If I wanted to qualify, I would have to run a qualifying event in 3 hours and 50 minutes. Given that it took me just over 7  hours to finish the last marathon I ran, I don’t think anyone in Boston has to worry about me ruining their race.

As I understand it, the article is saying that too many people are qualifying for this prestige event. In other words, groups like Team in Training are training their runners too well?  They make them such fast runners that they are taking up all the slots at the Boston Marathon? If you actually qualify for the event, how does that make you unworthy to share the route with other “real”  runners?

I understand that the Boston Marathon is a prestige event and I am in awe of the very few people I know who have qualified. And I am more than okay with events that have entry requirements. There are plenty of fun events for the athletes at my end of the spectrum. And to be sure the organizers of this event have a capacity problem on their hands and I don’t pretend to have all the answers to that, but can we at least agree that if you can meet the requirements to participate, that you should have just as much opportunity to be there as anyone else. If that is not acceptable, then change the requirements, but don’t blame the people who did what you asked.