If you were 18 or 20 years old, showed some real talent at running and were approached by a known coach to start a professional career (I don't know if that's how it's done, I'm just imagining it...), would you be interested? The life of an elite runner, especially a long distance one I suppose, can last what? Up to 20 years? Would you be willing to put your training above everything else in your life? Everything you do would be analyzed in function of whether it could affect negatively or not your running. Your family, if you had time for one, would have to accept and live for your career. Your income would be either great, or not so great... but never really predictable from one year to the next. You would live with the fear of an injury. You would also have great moments of glory, the knowledge that you are one of very few people in the world able to do what you are doing, make money doing something you love, meet amazing people and travel. And you'd be learning discipline and hard work, things that you can apply to the rest of your life, even after your career is over.
Do you feel you'd have it in you, mentally? Is that something that would appeal to you?
PRs: Boston Marathon, 3:27, April 15th 2013
Cornwall Half-Marathon, 1:35, April 27th 2013
18 marathons, 18 BQs since 2010
Let's assume that you could be a professional runner at age 50 on something like the Senior PGA Tour. Assuming I had the talent, would I want to be a professional runner? No. At my age in life, I am all about balance. I left working at a large law firm because I didn't want to work 80 hours a week no matter how much it paid. I don't feel guilty when I skip a run to take care of a sick child. Doing any sport at a professional level requires a single minded focus on that pursuit that I just don't have these days.
At age 20, my answer to that question might have been very different.
Short term goal: 17:59 5K
Mid term goal: 2:54:59 marathon
Long term goal: To say I've been a runner half my life. (I started running at age 45).
At the request of my football coach, I tried out for the track team in high school and hated it. I was put through a speed session from hell, to "test my mettle" which I survived, but it completely turned me off from running.
Even with or without that experience, baseball was and is my first love. So no matter how much I like running now, I always aspired to be a professional baseball player.
There are pros and cons to every profession and had I made it past the high school level, I would have gladly taken whatever cons there are to play in the major leagues.
Clarity: I've found it.
When I was playing drums a lot, I played with this guitar player who was wanting to take things serious and try to "make it". That didn't appeal to me. I would feel the same about running. I would like the glory of being a good local racer, but would not want the BS that comes with being an elite runner. Also, to LTH's point, life balance is important.
I don't think so. When it became a "job" I'd dread it...kind of like my job. To have the ability to be a professional runner would be nice.
Running for TJ because he can't.
Chief Unicorn Officer
Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54
There is another thread about this in the Off the Beaten Path forum on the main page. If you read it, pay close attention to Nobby's comments as he has some real life experience in that area.
2015 Goals: Run IAT50K, run first 100K, and exceed 100K in a 24-Hour race
Being a professional runner and being an elite professional runner can be very different from all I've heard. To be fully supported, be winning significant prize money, and needing to be concerned only about training sounds like an attractive proposition. Not so with needing a part time or even full time job, sqeaking by barely making ends meet and picking up small purses at minor races. There's a certain appeal to it for me and I came close to the second scenario back in my 20s except for winning prize money because running was still strictly amateur back then. Even so I think the constant traveling to races, not having a life outside of running, could be draining after a few years. That may be why a 20 year career is the exception and being on the national or international scene often lasts only 4-5 years.
If I were young and single with no kids, I might be interested (given that I had the talent of course). But certainly not with a family.
My running blog
Goals | sub-4 trail 50k | complete first 100 miler without dying
However, as George mentioned, the difference between "professional" and elite is large. And if you aren't truly elite you aren't really making a lot of money and are typically working part time jobs as well. It is definitely not a glamorous life. But if I were 18-20 I would love to give it shot if I showed the potential.
The thing is, most "professional" runners don't really make a living off of it. Just read an article from last summer catching up on Gabe Jennings, Olympian and NCAA champion. At his peak, he got $20k a year from Nike. Paul Terek, Olympic decathlete, couldn't make a living in track. An acquaintance of mine was an NCAA champion and national cross-country champion. He was professional for several years after college, but "professional" meant working at a fitness center between races and his wife working.
A few top track people, and probably a few road runners, make a lot of money, but most professionals can't really support themselves by running. If I'm just out of college, don't need to support anyone else, and have the opportunity to get paid a little race, heck ya, I'd go for it. But the long-term prospects of having a career doing it are not good.
There may be a few gigs like the Penguin's where you can support yourself by writing and speaking about running. And you can do the charity thing: run across the country or some other gimmick to raise money and awareness for something. But that is by its nature temporary.
Tough row to hoe.
For me, I think the pressure would take some of the fun out of running. I will be happy continuing as a rank amateur.
No. I did once toy with the idea of trying to become a rugby 'professional' (more like semi-pro really - wasn't going to be enough to live off).
Interestingly my father had to make the same choice early in his life he actually had a contract in hand to sign, I wasn't quite at that point (though his sport was football/soccer, in the days of serious wages restraint).
We both chose not to go the sports route, and have had successful careers in our chosen profession.
5K 23:21* (Vdot 41.53) 10/13/12
10K 46:35 (Vdot 43.47) 10/4/14
HM 1:42:41 (Vdot 43.72) 10/25/14
FM 4:24:33 (Vdot 33.59) 11/8/14
*Gun time, all others are chip time
If I were 18 or 20 years old again and found myself in the situation that you described, I would certainly hope that my current self (or at least someone just like me today) would tell the younger me all that he would miss out on by starting down the path of professional runner. I personally couldn't imagine sacrificing anything in my current family life that would be worth the choice to go pro/elete. So, my answer is an easy NO.
Train smart ... race smarter.
Aside from the fact that I'm a complete flake when it comes to training and I wouldn't last 5 minutes as a professional or elite runner, I also agree with your statement, Bruce.