So Kevin Helliker wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled The Slowest Generation. The gist of the article is that the current younger crowd, defined as roughly < 35 years old appears to be less concerned with running fast. Average finishing times are getting slower in a number of categories and that older age categories are often disproportionally represented near the top of the overall placings.
The author does sidestep the question of whether or not participation numbers are significantly up which would make much of the article irrelevant. That's not what I want to talk about.
What I do want to discuss is what does 'racing' mean when you've got 20k people starting an event and maybe 40 of those have a real shot at winning their category?
The people who will be near the top of the results are those with a combination of a natural engine and excellent training. That training takes a toll on the body, physically and mentally. To race as hard as possible, you need to suffer out on the road. You need to go out in terrible weather, push yourself in interval sessions and recover when possible to do it all again.
To be clear, this hurts. Physically you open yourself to injury. Mentally you risk burnout.
Furthermore, everyone has a limit. There are only so many hours someone can dedicate to training. There is only so much oxygen their blood can shuffle around. Even if you are training optimally within your bounds, that limit will be reached. So what happens if you suffer and suffer and then place 3000th?
If you are not one of those people who enjoys suffering, I don't think it's worth it. The vast majority of us are not potential world class atheletes. Those who are will run a 10k in 35 minutes on minimal training and stand out.
Being in decent shape, however, is worth quite a bit. If that's a mediocre, average performance in a marathon? So be it. That's still running and finishing a fucking marathon.