My first marathon didn't go perfectly, but I still had an amazing time and was proud to have finished. My time was 5:05. The non-runners in my life were so happy and proud of me, they didn't care it took me more than 5 hours. I was happy, but a little embarassed by the 5 in front of my time.
I was feeling ok though, and still proud of my accomplishment. Then I came across a forum discussing the NY Times' decision to only publish NYC Marathon runners who finished in 4:30 or less. The majority of the posters agreed with this decision, and made hurtful comments about how runners who take more than 4 hours aren't taking it seriously and aren't really runners. We are joggers or run/walk-ers. People were saying that someone who took longer to run the same 26.2 miles was not accomplishing the same thing as a runner who finished in 3 or 4 hours.
I felt really bad about my time after that. I could never dream of finishing a marathon in the 3-hour range. I don't get what these people were hoping to accomplish by posting that. What do they think gives them the right to judge other runners? What makes a 3-hour marathoner any less of a runner than a 5-hour marathoner? They were bullying runners who probably had to summon a lot of courage to even start running in the first place. I had always thought the running community was supportive and encouraging, but this forum completely changed my mind. Some runners are just arrogant, or bitter, or out to make other people feel bad.
Your marathon time does not define you. If you are lucky, it becomes a lasting part of who you are and what shaped you. I am proud of the 5 hours and 5 minutes I spent running some of the most joyful, difficult, and satisying 26.2 miles of my life.
I hope that I will always focus on the journey and the accomplishment, and not on the fact that it takes me a little longer to get there than other runners.