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So, England Athletics didn’t select a male marathon runner for the Commonwealth games despite one (Johnny Mellor) running well under the qualifying time.

Apparently it’s because he’s not seen as a medal contender and there is a limit to how many people they can take (75 for the record).

This is a great pity for the sport, and for society.

Being a marathon runner is tough. You can only really race twice a year, you have to train hard, and train long, and there is little financial reward as East Africans are picking up all the prize money and governing bodies only fund and support those with potential to medal. This means athletes require other jobs and careers which, in today’s world, aren’t good bedfellows for marathon running/training. So, it’s easy to see why the sub-elite might be disillusioned anyway, and then we have this baffling decision.

I guess the key question though, is why is this important?

For me, the simple answer lies in the truth behind us as people. We are all, almost always, pursuing some kind of personal growth milestone, from buying nicer clothes to getting a payrise, we are all trying to move forward. In running, it’s our evolutionary instinct to look at who’s ahead of us, not behind, and so inspiration starts at the top. If opportunity is capped at the top amid a “we can’t win, so let’s not bother” attitude, it simply serves to reduce the aspiration levels of everyone further down the chain. There is nothing, beyond personal pride (not to be undervalued of course) to aspire to.

The handful of 2.15 guys that we have won’t see the point of trying to run 2.12, especially given the diminishing returns nature of running at this level. The 2.19 guys won’t see any point in trying to run 2.15 – it will barely influence their ranking and there is little chance of them being selected for international events. The 2.29 guys will be happy to be in the top 100 as they are now, and not need to push on. And so it goes on all the way “down” to the thousands of people participating in parkrun each week.

Of course, we are still inspired by the women that have been selected and clearly the influence of this decision doesn’t have to be as direct as that. Individuals will always have their own motivations (many parkrunners won’t know or even care that England aren’t sending a male marathon runner – a problem in itself) but at a time when society’s biggest health issues centre around obesity and mental health which running is evidenced to help, this seemingly sport based decision has far reaching implications.

If you’re a Parkrunner, and you’re never going to win, should you give up? That’s the signal that this non selection sends I’m afraid……

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