Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Challenge, The Bragging Rights & The Souvenir

I have always been a loyal supporter of our very own Borneo International Marathon (BIM). For better or worse, it is the only marathon event we've got here in Sabah for many years now. I've witnessed how the event grow from year to year, and I'm glad to say that it is still growing and improving all the time. The 9th edition of the event was last Sunday (1st May 2016), and I thought it was very well-organised. I'm not saying it is perfect, because there is no such thing as a perfectly-organised event!

It is human nature, however, that not everybody can agree to a particular point of view; and at the end of this post, I shall not be surprised if there are some of you who will disagree and even criticize my opinion. I respect the opposing views, and hope that you will just let mine go.

I suppose by now you can already guess from the preceding paragraph that there were some people who were unhappy with the organiser of BIM. These were because of numerous reasons—some were petty issues, some were of substance—but a lot of it revolved around the issue of the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts, especially in respect of the full marathon (42.2km); that is to say, who deserved them? At a glance, that sounds like a no-brainer question, because the answer seems so straightforward. But upon further consideration, it can become quite complicated!

About one-and-a-half years ago, I posted something about medals in this blog entitled "The Prostitution of Running Medals". To get a proper context of this present post, may I suggest that you read that older post first, since I've also mentioned a bit about the BIM in that post. Besides, the other contents in that post also have a bearing of what I'm about to discuss here now.

People run the marathon for numerous reasons. Some do it simply to prove that they can. Others do it because they are curious to know if they can. Others still do it because they are convinced that it is something healthy, though the truth in that remains to be debated. Whatever the reason, running 42.2km is an epic challenge for the vast majority of ordinary folks.

Curiously though, the point that is often forgotten is that anybody at any time and anywhere can run 42.2km if they want to. In some poor countries where motor vehicles are a luxury, some people may walk or run 42.2km almost on a daily basis. There is absolutely no necessity to run that distance only in an organised race like BIM. Yet most people choose to only run 42.2km in an organised race. Immediately we ask ourselves, why?

The simple answer is that humans quite often fall prey to the pathetic cravings for recognition; that they not only want to achieve a seemingly impossible feat, but they also want to brag about it! While they're at it, they may also inspire others to follow suit. That's where the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts come into play. Therefore, it is perhaps fair to say that people join organised races because they're hoping to earn the finisher medals and T-shirts in the end. That is easy enough to understand—one conquers a challenge, and he is duly given the recognition for that achievement.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. People come from all walks of life, in different shapes and sizes, and wide range of physical abilities. Some can finish 42.2km fast; some not so fast; some extremely not so fast.

A race is a race, and as in any other races out there, time is a significant factor. I think the organiser of BIM could afford to be lenient on time during the earlier years, because the size of the participation was very manageable. They had the resources to "babysit" the slow runners along the way after the cut off time, and saw to their safety until they crossed the finish line. However, as the size of participation became larger, it soon became obvious that it's an uphill task to keep an eye on the slow participants after the cut off times, whereupon the roads would be reopened for the public. The only solution was to be strict on the cut off time, because in the end the safety of the participants is paramount. If anything bad happened to the participants while they're out there with the organiser's bibs on them, the organiser will have a lot to answer.

Anyway, my view is that a cut off time is there for a good reason. Finish the race within the cut off time to earn the medals and T-shirts, no questions asked. From what I've gathered, last Sunday, participants that escaped the sweeper buses, but missed the cut off times when they eventually crossed the finish line, were still given the medals and T-shirts because the orgniser decided to be lenient for an extra hour. Why an "injury time" of an hour, that is entirely up to the organiser. Beyond that time, no medals and no T-shirts. I personally think that an hour's "injury time" was very generous.

Then we had the issue of participants whom did not finish the race, because they were "swept up" at the respective locations as per the rules announced before the race. They may have covered the distance of 30km or 37km respectively when the sweeper buses caught up with them. Yet they are convinced that they deserved the finisher medals and finisher T-shirts for 42.2km. I'm not sure what's their basis of entitlement. If you have read the older post that I quoted above, you will know how I felt about this. Well, my opinion has not changed since one-and-a-half years ago. If one did not finish the 42.2km, he does not deserve the finisher medals and T-shirts, period. There is really nothing to argue about!

If one were to sit for a test, of which the passing mark is 50%, it is at the discretion of the examining body to consider if it could grant a pass somehow if the score is 45%. But to expect earning a pass with 30% is just unreasonable. The sooner we change our mentality, the better we would be to understand what the race is all about. The medal is a symbol of achievement, and when earned according to the rules of the race, can also be a souvenir of that achievement. But it can't be a souvenir—and only a souvenir, without first achieving the minimum passing hurdle.

This reminds me of Macau Marathon which I joined a few years ago. They not only had a very tight cut off time, but missing that cut off by even a mere one minute would result in a DNF (Did Not Finish); and runners were not even allowed to enter the stadium leading to the finish line. Instead, they were redirected to an alternative area. So no finisher medals; there was nothing to argue about.

I hope our local runners would be willing to take a step back and consider these points; and what other organisers are doing. Instead of complaining, we should be energized and inspired to train harder. Let's all come back stronger and faster in the 10th edition of Borneo International Marathon 2017.

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