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Competitiveness vs. participation


One of the missions which The Running Clinic has sworn to honor is to get people moving by fostering running as a sport or any other type of physical activity. Over recent years, the popularity of running has literally skyrocketed; there are more and more events organized and the participation rate is increasing in such a way that there is no sign that this trend is about to slow down. We are delighted to see such progression!


In fact, several events are often “sold out” before the day of the competition. Some races even opt for a limited number of registrations so as to ensure that they provide high-quality services. The popularity of running has given rise to an array of sporting events that merge physical activity and leisure. Such popular events as the Spartan Race, Color Run, Prison Break, Tough Mudder and Totale Bouette are being thrown into the mix of more traditional races thereby developing a market involving additional stimuli. From the scenery of the surroundings to obstacle-filled courses, each and every one may select from a variety of races. On the other hand, some have voiced their concerns about the fact that these races are frivolous in nature as time is not always kept, more emphasis is placed on participation, challenging one’s abilities or having fun, not to mention that the notion of competition is quickly thrown out of the equation.


The debate has officially been launched! With the advent of these new types of events and the giveaways awarded regardless of performance, is the very nature of these races diluted? What if the medals handed out to all participants irrespective of performance changed our views on success in sports? However, we might want to ask ourselves whether competitiveness is more important than reaching out to an increasing number of running enthusiasts? Winner/loser advocates would square against runners who focus solely on challenging their own abilities. Is character building through values of perseverance, determination, and the likes during intense training more important than democratizing running in young ones? At a time when sedentariness rules, we can wonder whether it is better to start by promoting physical activity through pleasure, accessible to any age group, and then, only then, focus on competition and performance.


Yet another issue remains. Too many people believe that a majority of runners nowadays embark upon the journey toward running a marathon (42.2 km) without respecting the nature of such a feat. Is it an actual error in judgment to contemplate running a marathon in the first year of training? Is it foolish or merely a sign that our perception of success in sports has changed? Running a marathon in more than 5:00:00 is something we would have never seen in the 1980s! For the average Joe who enjoys running, it does involve a certain level of competition; it’s about challenging one’s abilities! To that effect, the issue had already been raised in our post entitled “Our era vs. the 80s.” Data reveal that, in the 1990s, an era came to an abrupt end. Was the previous generation obsessed with performance? Did the leisure component really belong to this type of feat? Progress for people who are too young or too old to fit the mold is often overshadowed by success and performance. When performance is no longer the issue at hand, is sport still as attractive?


Democratizing running seems to be the best way to get people moving. In sum, very few athletes are currently representing us at the international level. Although such athletes are good role models for kids, accessibility and challenging one’s abilities seem to remain key in developing an interest in sports.