If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. – The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It appears this is a genuine MLK quote. I am certain that the original context was much more important than personal fitness. He was speaking of justice and standing for what’s right. But some ideas transcend their original context and can inspire in many realms.

Today I begin my official training plan for Eagleman 2012. I used the gold member custom plan creator on BeginnerTriathlete to do a 21 week plan, starting the week after the half-marathon. I’m rested and recovered, and ready to go. Thankfully the plan starts small, but it builds quickly. I tweaked it to push more running the next three months with the Garden Spot Village half marathon falling on March 31, and the April Hyner Challenge.

So about Jan Brady. This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time, ever since I got involved with endurance sports. If I ever write a book, I will expand this to a whole chapter, so don’t steal it! I have discovered a syndrome, and it has two sides to it. One is sympathetic, the other can lead to the kind of arrogance that gives triathlon a bad name.

The Jan Brady Syndrome

If you grew up on Brady Bunch reruns like I did, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about without any explanation. Jan was the middle child of three girls, and was constantly frustrated. Peter never seemed to have this problem as the middle boy, but he was a little goofy and lacked self-awareness anyway, so he could go through life with little reflection, a la Forrest Gump. But Jan had angst.

Marcia was older, prettier, more popular. It was tough to be little sister to Marcia. What’s worse, is that the baby of the family was Cindy. Everything she did and said was adorable. People fall all over Cindy, and fawn over Marcia. Jan? Oh yeah, we have Jan too.

The closest experience I can come to in experiencing this in my own life is turning 40. My favorite comic/philosopher/social critic Louis has nailed it perfectly. The first 30 seconds of this clip from his landmark show/album Hilarious gets at what I’m talking about.

Clip has some profanity.

So here’s where I think Jan Brady syndrome comes into play in endurance sports.

First you have the Marcias. They are the elites. They actually show up to compete and win races. They BQ every marathon. They are on the podium all the time. They are in Corral A at a big race. They’re awesome. And they tend to always be people who are kind and accepting of the slow folks.

At the back of the pack, you have the Cindy Bradys of the world. That’s where I come in. The beauty of endurance sports is that yes, it is a big deal just to finish. We get plenty of cheers at the back. I saw a sign at the Disney Half-Marathon “I’m more impressed by the last 100 than the first 100.” I missed the last 100 by 48, but in a crowd of over 22,000, close enough. I’m the really slow fat guy just pushing to get it done. Endurance sports has welcomed people like me, for whom it’s about survival, not awards. It’s why the finisher’s medal exists. Yes, at a certain point, just completing the task before they close the course is indeed a big deal. This is where I live. Cindy Brady town. Everyone’s proud of me for just doing it, no matter how slow. And that is indeed, nice.

But then there is this huge bell curve of people in the middle. They won’t win the race, but they aren’t fearing the cutoff clock or sweeper either. They run, or do triathlons, as the great mid-pack. And here’s where it gets hard. They don’t get to be on the podium, but there’s also few people cheering them on just for doing it. All the attention goes to the obvious newbies and strugglers and stragglers. Yet these are the folks who train consistently, eat better, and come prepared. They have a balanced lifestyle and they are just as happy to finish the race as I am. They get the same finisher’s medal as I do, and as the first 100 finishers do. But the mood, the tone, is different. And I can see how that would be frustrating.

On one of the discussion boards I read, another Marathon weekend participant posted I never thought I’d think or say this, but Disney put so much emphasis on the Goofy challenge that I feel like I didn’t do s**t because I only ran the marathon. Oh well, I just need to get better at telling myself I ran for me and no one else. Congrats to everyone who ran, no matter which race!

I can really understand what this person is saying. I proudly wore my Donald Duck medal until I drove past York PA on the way home. Plenty of us did. We got lots of congratulations from lots of people. And I was one who made sure to congratulate every Goofy finisher I saw. But I can very much see how the marathon “only” folks were sort of the middle child in this affair. Everyone is so impressed with the Goofy 39.3 folks, and so supportive of the new runners doing the half, that a whole marathon by itself wasn’t as noticeable. That is downright nutty. I vowed after finishing that I would never say just a half-marathon again. And here’s someone feeling like they did just a whole marathon.

Luckily, the culture of RunDisney is so Up With People! that it mitigates that syndrome to some degree.

But there will always be those who, because of their Jan Brady Syndrome, will have to crap all over the achievements of others. See my very early blog post on Gabriel Sherman’s article “Has John Bongham ruined the sport of running?” There will always be those who are faster than the fatties, but not fast enough to keep up with Ryan Hall. They declare you didn’t really run a marathon unless you did it in time X. Notice that time X is almost always around the time that the indignant pontificator did it in. Triathlon has a reputation for drawing a lot of these types. I don’t know how many of these folks there really are. It’s likely a case that their negativity and nastiness is just so noticeable that it sticks out.

In reality, I think there are far more middle of the pack folks who are content to run their race without lots of attention, and they will still cheer on the Cindy Bradys in the back. I want to be there, both speedwise and emotionally. As I look back on the last year, I can’t deny that there’s a certain pleasure in having people cheer you on when you’re the last or near-last to get there. Why else wear a DOUGHBOY Tshirt if not to invite attention? I want to move beyond the novelty of that all. I’m not sure when that point in my “racing” career will come. It will probably come around the time I decide to drop the quotes around the word.

As I look to Eagleman, I don’t want to be struggling at the 8 and a half hour mark. These next six months I want to move past dead-last slow and stuggling, to prepared but still slow. Still, there’s a part of me that can’t deny this: if I’m going to be in the bottom 25% of finishers, I’d rather finish late enough that Crowie gives me my medal. It’s tradition at iron distance races, and even at half, that the winners come back for the last finishers. I always pictured myself as a last finisher, and I may indeed always be one. But there is this mass of people who cross the finish line while the winners are still doing interviews and getting cleaned up, before returning for the Cindy Brady greetings at the end. In that vast middle, are the folks who finish in a mob, and may not even see their finish line picture because their bib was obscured in the crowd. Not like the 4 hour half-marathon finisher who has Donald and Mickey all to himself. (OK that was definitely fun. This is the benefit of being Cindy Brady.)

I have great respect for the middle children of endurance sports. No one cheers you like the Marcias or the Cindys. But I hope to join your ranks nonetheless someday. They I can turn around and cheer on the last finisher. I’ll know how it feels, since I hope to say “I used to be there. Congratulations on getting it done.”


3 thoughts on “Eagleman, MLK Jr., and Jan Brady

  1. Very good post, from one ‘Jan’ to another! You summed it up very well, thanks for sharing your point of view, and congratulations on finishing your half marathon.

  2. As a back of the middle of the pack-er; we welcome all Cindy’s – just don’t mind if we don’t want you to start passing us…we might never catch Marcia, but gosh darn it if we’re not going to beat Cindy either!

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