Instead of improving the caliber of track in this country, the running boom may have hurt it, according to Al Cantello, cross country coach at the United States Naval Academy.
The running craze and the demise of the achievement-oriented runner have gone hand in hand, he writes in a US sports Academy newsletter. Proof of this, he feels, is the absence of a high school sub-4-minute miler during the past decade.
Cantello points to road races as the chief culprit in blunting a runner's competitive edge. Their proliferation has enabled would-be achievers to "seek the least line of resistance," forgoing interval training to enter events in which they can place or at least avoid embarrassment.
"During the past several years I have attended . . . over 40 major road races ," he says. "I have yet to see more than 10 or 15 runners in fields of 4,000 to 6,000 trying to win."
The distribution of free T-shirts, the chance to run on public streets, and the establishment of special racing categories work together to make road racing a popular alternative to the pursuit of athletic excellence.