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Perfect harmony

No matter how fast or slow you run, your presence on the roads makes our sport stronger.

I admit it. I was an elitist. not a running elitist, but a musical elitist. As a professional musician, I couldn't understand why some people would want to claw their way through Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano when they could buy a recording of it played well. And I certainly couldn't understand why week after week scads of musicians showed up for rehearsals at hundreds of community orchestras around the country just to hack through the second violin part of Mozart's Symphony no. 40.

Such musicians were everything that I wasn't: They were content just to do their best. They were simply happy to be part of some larger musical goal. I, on the other hand, was a professional trombonist and miserable nearly all the time. No matter how much I practiced, no matter how good I got, no matter how wonderful the musicians were around me, I wasn't satisfied. There was always something more that I could achieve.

Sound like any runners you know?

Hardly a race weekend goes by that I don't encounter some angry elitists bemoaning the fact that the sport of running is being ruined by all of the nonrunners participating in the events. And by nonrunners, these folks don't mean just the walkers and the run-walkers. They mean anyone not gunning for an age-group award.

This disgruntled subset of the running community actually believes that the reason there are so few really fast runners these days is because there are so many really slow runners out there now. That's like saying that the blue-haired woman playing on the fifth rack of the second violins in the Arlington Symphony somehow keeps the New York Philharmonic from being magnificent. The New York Phil is a superb orchestra because it has great musicians. And great musicians - like great runners - are exceptional, independent of those with less talent. They're great in an absolute sense, not a relative sense.

The truth is, the sport of running has never been healthier. As record numbers of "jolly joggers" (the condescending title given by elitists to fellow Penguins and followers of colleagues like Jeff Galloway) hit the streets, new world records continue to be set. Women's distance running, in particular, is robust and vital, with women like Deena Kastor and Paula Radcliffe running faster than most people ever imagined. Simply put, we're living in a time of brilliant running performances and stunning talent. We're also living in a time when more than 8 million people finished road races in 2005 in the United States - up from 3.7 million in 1987. Coincidence? I think not. The second running boom has clearly been a boon, not a bust, for our sport.

The elitist attitude I had as a musician prevented me from sharing in the joy of making music with others and caused me to miss out on many magical experiences. I definitely won't let that happen in my running - and I hope others won't either.

Waddle on, friends.

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