What is elite, anyway?

In a previous post, one commentator made a passionate claim about the dearth of high-calibre running in America. I may disagree with his tactics (as it regards to cajolling people on to greater efforts), but certainly can respect his opinions. Anyway, it got me thinking: what is an "elite" runner?

Some people would say that anyone who makes money by running is an elite runner. I disagree with that, since it would mean that this guy is technically an "elite" runner. (If the link no longer works - he ran a marathon in 6 hours, and received a $1500 stipend from a sport bar manufacturer.) So, money alone is no guaranteed qualifier, though it certainly wound tend to be associated with elite runners.

I've seen a couple people talk about mileage, whether it is total miles per week, longest race run, etc. I disagree with this as well - obviously there are elite runners out there who run only the mile or 5k, and their training load is certainly going to be less (per week) than someone who is training for a marathon and doing long, slow, distance runs.

I'm currently leaning toward my own definition. I saw the 2005 USA Marathon Review, and they had a pretty decent breakdown of the numbers (though I would like to see the raw data). According to their data, only 0.1% of the marathoners who completed a race last year had a finish time between 2:07:02 and 2:29:58. Another 1.5% finished in under three hours (2:30:00-2:59:59). I think that it is fairly safe to cal the first group "elite", at least as it pertains to local races, as well as smaller regional races. I would say that perhaps half (or even all) of the second group is sub-elite, or close to it - they stand a very good chance of placing (at least in their age category) in most races, and, depending on attendence and time, might well win the smaller local races.

As for me - based on the "2.1 rule" and my current half-marathon PR, I am just a bit faster than the average time for my age bracket (4:25:28). Of course, I haven't actually run a marathon yet, so I might not rank even that high.

Or, my speed training might actually pan out, and I'll break four hours. I'll just have to work hard and see what happens.


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