So, when is a first place finish in a marathon not a first place finish? Apparently when you’re not seeded as an elite runner. Today’s SF Gate features a story about last weekend’s Nike Women’s Marathon held here in San Francisco. Arien O’Connell ran a PR finishing in 2:55:11, but then,

“They called out the third-place time and I thought, ‘I was faster than that,’ ” she said. “Then they called out the second-place time and I was faster than that. And then they called out the first-place time (3:06), and I said, ‘Heck, I’m faster than her first-place time, too.’ “

Read the rest of the story here.

According to the article this isn’t the first time this has ever happened, and the message is obviously this: Only self-described (or registered) elite runners are entitled to any prize money. Apparently, if you line up at the start line and have the race of your life, all you’re entitled to is a pleasant memory, not a share of the prize money. But is that fair?

On the one hand the group of elites in a given race know one another, and there’s a lot of psychological battling that goes on before and during a race. If some mid-packer or someone like O’Connell who describes herself as “a pretty good runner” makes a race of it, the elites are at a disadvantage since they weren’t allowed to psychologically gear up against some new competitor. Conversely, by not registering as an elite, that odd fast runner has the advantage of a clear head unencumbered by all of those head games.

But come on. There’s a starting line, a finish line, and a stop watch. If you cover the distance faster than anyone else, you’re the winner.

I’d love to be fast enough to join that small group of elite runners leading off every marathon. But, for now, a fifth-grade teacher from New York City is my hero.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.

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