Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from another sport.

I played golf once in my life. It was supposed to be a father-son-brother bonding experience.  I didn’t really like it, although a shot a 97. It’s important to know that I shot that 97 on a par 3, 9-hole course. I managed to lose the golf balls I had been given, and those of my father and brother. Eventually, we had to quit because we only had 2 golf balls left!

Since then I’ve watched people play golf with a mix of admiration and apathy. There’s no question that an athlete like Tiger Woods has raised the level of play to new heights. But, then there are the people I see at the Lincoln Park golf course on my daily runs. They don’t seem to have much more of an idea about playing golf than I do.

The difference, from what I can tell looking through the fence and being prepared to duck, is that everyone out there seems to be having fun. I’ve seen them slice balls at a 90 degree angle and laugh out loud. I’ve seen them send giant wads of grass 50 yards down the course and raise their arms in celebration.

What do golfers understand that we, as runners, don’t? I think that they have accepted that not everyone is going to be able to hit as far, chip as well, and putt with the same precision. There will be good golfers, bad golfers, and terrible golfers. And they developed a system that allows them all to feel good. Golfers have the handicap system.

What a concept!! If I always seem to take 20 more shots than par, I get a 20 handicap and can take 20 shots off my total. As I get better, I can watch my handicap shrink until, maybe, I get to be a scratch golfer. This, my friends, is a fantastic system.

So, I am sending the challenge out to the technical people in the sport of running to help us develop the “handicap” chip system. Stay with me now. This could work. Really. Runners buy a personal chip, register with some national chip registry, and go out and start racing.

Here’s how I see it working. Let’s take a 5K to make it simple. The gun goes off and everyone runs the race. So far, so good. Overall winners are awarded trophies, age-groupers get their awards, and nothing changes. EXCEPT. The data is put into some giant computer somewhere and the AVERAGE finishing times for the age groups are established for THAT race. Are you with me so far??

If the average finishing time in my age group is, say 25 minutes, and I run it in 30 minutes, then I ran 5 minutes OVER par. The person who ran it in 20 minutes ran it in 5 minutes UNDER par. See how this works??

What this would do is help every runner compete only against themselves and the specific standard of that race on that day. This sure beats trying to break into the top 10,000 and one of the bigger races!! I think it would motivate new and aging runners if they could see that they were improving or maintaining their relative pace.

Now, before you go dismissing this idea, imagine if someone in 1970 had suggested using tiny transmitters on runner’s shoes as a way of keeping track of their times! That person would have been taken away in a straight jacket. But unless you are a card carrying member of the Flat Earth society, you’d have to admit that the chip technology has made the sport better.

So why not take it another step? In fact, why not go even farther and establish a national par system, establish par times for certain courses,  and have some races be handicapped events? Not like the age-graded system that we tried some years ago – because that didn’t do someone like me any good at all – but an honest to goodness par and handicap system modeled after the golfers.

It’s not as far fetched as it seems. And when you see someone start advertising the Giant Shoe Company Par 10K series, remember that you read it here first!

Waddle On, friends.

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