Friday afternoon, when I should have been hard at work on AB's November issue, I instead found myself fuming over an article from Thursday's Wall Street Journal sent to me by our company owner. The article deemed younger athletes "The Slowest Generation," and accused my generation of being too apathetic about performance and competition.

"Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it's good enough just to finish," Ryan Lamppa, a spokesperson for the industry research group Running USA told the WSJ.

As a member of the generation in question, I took offense at this. I can't say that I have ever participated in a competitive race or "event," as this article denotes races like the Color Run or Tough Mudder, but that's more a reflection of my attitudes about spending money than competitive racing. I have completed many a "5K" and even a handful of "10Ks" on the streets of Madison, and never have I expected a medal for doing so. That's not why I run. I run because I enjoy it.

There, I admit it: I'm a recreational runner. But that doesn't mean I'm not competitive. I just know that the only way I'm going to be a gold-medal-winning racer is if I devote hours each day to training and conditioning. But that's simply not where my priorities are. I run to keep my body healthy. And isn't THAT what we're all supposed to be doing? Getting up off the couch, eating less and being active more?

Maybe my generation is lacking in competitive drive (For which our Boomer parents should own up to at least part of the blame, ahem), but I'm not going to get into the problems of Generation Y (Though this Huffington Post article does a semi-decent job) or any speculations as to why the U.S. hasn't won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004 (which really wasn't that long ago, was it?); I'm going to get into my problem with this article. Namely, the assumption that the slower average performance of younger racers is "emblematic of the state of America's competitiveness."

The article references a Running USA report that found the median U.S. marathon finishes for men rose 44 minutes from 1980 through 2011. That's median time, not average. That means that of all the men who ran a marathon, half finished with a time faster than the median and half less. Now, not just by my own conjecture but backed by Running USA's own data, I would say this slowdown is more attributable to an increase in participants than a decrease in competitive spirit. Here are a few more statistics from the 2012 Running USA report that the WSJ article didn't include:

• The number of U.S. race finishers has increased 80% since the year 2000.• Total number of U.S. running events reached an all-time high of 26,370 in 2012.• In 2012, the 5K maintained the #1 position of all race distances with 6.2 million finishers (another record number), claiming nearly 40% of all finishers in the U.S.• Mud runs, obstacle runs and color runs have grown exponentially in the past few years, and it is estimated that approximately 2 million runners participated in these non-traditional, adventure-type races last year.

What does this mean? More people are running. Period. We're not all elite athletes (by definition, we can't be), and we don't want to be, as is evidenced by the growth in more casual races. And what happens when a lot of not-particularly-athletic people get off their butts, get moving and show up at the same events as these true athletes? They bring down the numbers.

So yes, more race events are being driven by gimmicks and fewer people care about their race time, but it's not "emblematic of the state of America's competitiveness." No, it's emblematic of a generation hearing and heeding the call to eat healthier and be more active. Or at least be more active. We don't need trophies because it's not a competition; it's a lifestyle.

The competitive athletes are still present in my generation, and I have nothing but respect for their determination and athleticism. But I also have a great deal of respect for a generation that doesn't care if they're losers, wants to take care of their health, and simply takes enjoyment in being active.

Emily Attwood is Editor of Athletic Business.
Excellent points, Emily.
Thank goodness the majority of our super star gen y'ers are directing their competitive juices towards things other than race times. Priorities matter!!

As baby boomers, we still semi-joke about the risk of hiring a scratch golfer.
Is this not the generation in which EVERYBODY gets a ribbon during 'field day'?

Good points... I'm 27 and feel that most of my peers are actually too competitive in a variety of sports because we all grew up playing organized sports that were taken way too seriously, so this WSJ article took me by surprise. 'Everyone' is running these days so of course the times are going to go down. I think it's great people are so into running. It's not like we have an obesity problem or anything like that...
It was a bad article with bitter quotes from people with an ax to grind. But I will admit that I too spent too much time thinking on it. It rambles from untimed color runs…to road race results from 20 years ago compared to today… to that U.S. distance runners haven't won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004...we even get a knock on hipsters….wow, somehow this WSJ article managed to not throw "Obamacare" into its mud. I got to the point in which "hand-holding over competition" was likened to "Communism" and I threw up. In lots of colors.
The article is chalk-full of conflict of interest. Who are these "observers" the author would like us to think were picked willy-nilly from the roads? Well, we get Brendan Reilly from Boulder, who is presented as a concerned runner, but he is a "sports agent" who represents runners. It's very much in his best interests to decry any thought of road races "turning into parades." Ryan Lamppa is a "54-year-old competitive runner" and a spokesman for an "industry-funded research group." Rather than research, all he offers is an anecdotal quote - and certainly a trendy one these days -- that "many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it's good enough just to finish."
While there may be many people of an older generation who are nodding their heads in agreement, it's important to know where that quote is coming from. Whatever the topic, there are people who spend a lot of time and money trying to make their viewpoint the one that gets repeated or reposted, and running is not immune to that, either. The quotes seem to mostly be from Running USA, formed in 1999 out of USATF in part from discontent with the direction of the running community, with that feel-bad proof that the US had not won an Olympic distance medal since 1984. If a decision by CGI to not pay appearance fees is a first move, then getting an article out there that links the decision to the downfall of an entire generation, well, that is an interesting chess counter. I am more a fan of the Road Runners Club of America and its programs to support "Roads Scholars."
Our son got an award for 2nd place at the field day run. First three places got ribbons. He made us proud by saying, 'That's OK. My dad always gets 3rd place in his runs.' And everyone laughed. I would have rather everyone got a ribbon that day but the fact that they didn't was mostly a budget thing.
What do I take from all that? The kids are all right. And one of them, for better or worse, inherited my sense of 'humor.'
Mary Helen Sprecher Tuesday, 01 October 2013
If some of the people quoted in the WSJ article were to be believed, weekend warriors have no business being out on the race course (or by extension, the tennis court, the golf course or any other field of competition). Bulletin to the WSJ: most of us are average athletes who will never give Olympians a sleepless night. But we still do most of the buying of shoes and equipment and that drives the sports economy. Doesn't it seem like Running USA is criticizing the very people who are making its sport grow? Are the only people who deserve to participate in sports the ones who are going to wind up on the medal stand? It would make for pretty small races.
Elite athletes need to remember that they were once beginners, and that someone helped them along the way.
Beginners need to prepare, accept that improvement comes in bits and pieces, and find their own 'movement fun'. It (what you enjoy) might change frequently in your life, and that's OK.
Not everyone feels the same about why people run, so put your big boy shoes on and share the road (and the race!) There are plenty of events for competitive runners, and the new events only serve to make the running world better.
Dennis Van Milligen Friday, 04 October 2013
I think my colleague Emily did a great job addressing this article but I'd like to share my two cents as a former 'competitive' runner. It's comical that the author is so offended he is beating younger athletes in these races. Knowing nothing about the author, my guess is that this is someone that was never a successful runner growing up. Rather, he discovered the sport later in life and now, with his kids all moved out of the house, it's what defines him. He probably puts the stickers all over his car, making sure everyone knows just what an amazing athlete is behind the wheel of this car.

He wants the 'slowest generation' to have the same chip on their shoulder that he does, this need to prove that they are the best. But why should 20-somethings? They are getting married and starting families, and perhaps don't have the time to commit to training. They are fresh out of college starting new jobs, balancing where to allocate their income as race entrance fees continue to soar. And they have competition opportunities today that weren't available when i was a 20-something.

Oh, and some of them may have just completed a lengthy stretch of racing competitions and might just want to race 'for fun' without the intense training they had to do for so many years. These are all concepts that don't resonate with the author because, as he proved in this laughable piece, he clearly doesn't get it.

This article should not offend just the 'slowest generation.' It should offend anyone that has toed that starting line. Running is an individual battle that, regardless of time and place, should be celebrated once completed. Take it from someone that's a real runner, unlike the author.
I just read this article all the runners are talking about. Yuck! What cracks me up is he writes about how US distance runners haven't won a marathon medal but he conveniently forgets Galen Rupp in the 10,000 meters in London. No, now it's about the last MARATHON medal. Meb Keflizghi and Deena Kastor weren't that long ago, those things are only once every four years. There was just a time in this country when running a local road race as fast as you could was the thing, and now it's not.
Mine is not necessarily a good story in all this. I was a fast runner. I got a lot of trophies, still have them in the basement. I was putting in a lot of time, logging the miles, incorporating a lot of speed workouts. At the marathon finishes everyone I was with in the 2:40s would be saying should have run in the 2:30s, wasn't a good day, not a PR. I stuck with running long enough to be in the 2:50s and every single runner whined, not a PR, should have been in the 2:40s. Same in the 10K. 35 minutes? It's not 30. We were so tough on ourselves. We'd bristle at words like 'jogger!' Most of us were coming from college programs and when we didn't have good jobs yet running was our outlet. Running has changed for the better. I never switched over to just having fun, and in hindsight that was my fault. There were days when all of us were trying to run as fast as we could but we were nowhere near the Olympics. Too competitive? Mostly, that just isn't sustainable. We burned out. Reading about all the runners who enjoy it makes me want to get out there again, but just have fun with it -- thanks!
Did you see Helliker has now written a follow-up in the WSJ which he talks about his first article? He writes that the young people wrote in blasting him, 'But my fellow old-timers applauded it, saying that the rise of a medal-for-everyone culture has dulled this country's competitive edge.' Slow? Fast? Young? Old? The only thing that is definitive for me now is that Helliker is a total ass who is not helping running or journalism.