The Anger Kelly Gneiting Inspires

Kelly Gneiting, a 405-pound man, recently finished the LA Marathon in just under 10 hours. (This was his second marathon. The video above is a documentary about his first.) He got a lot of press, because he’s been certified as the heaviest person to finish a marathon, ever.

I am personally thrilled. I added Mr. Gneiting to my defiant athlete list a few days ago. He rocks.

But one thing, as I’ve been reading about his marathon, that I’ve found interesting is how many marathon runners are not only not supportive of Gneiting, but down-right pissed off. Lots of talk about how angry it makes them when someone says they ‘ran’ a marathon, when their pace was more of a jog or walk. Lots of real offense that Gneiting has the gall to call himself an athlete.

One woman said that at his size, she doubted it was safe for him to move. Period.

Lots of jokes about Southern California earthquakes, etc.

Also tons of support, and usually the anger is followed by many people calling it on the carpet. Most of the support, however, is in the form of “at least he’s trying.” As if his trying is somehow worth less than a thin person’s.

But it’s the anger that caught my attention.

As if the marathon runners are protecting their space. Maybe being a marathon runner is what makes them feel special, and they don’t like the idea that just anyone could do it? That’s what it comes across as to me, anyway. These people clearly assume that Gneiting has not worked as hard as them, because he’s still fat.

There are also some fat people who seem to take Gneiting’s finishing of the LA Marathon like a personal assault. Some of them say that even they could walk 26.2 miles at less than 3 mph–that it’s no big feat and Gneiting is no big inspiration. Some seem genuinely upset that he hasn’t lost weight, insisting that this means he hasn’t trained hard enough. What’s this about? Maybe Gneiting butted up against the idea that exercise doesn’t have to be about weight loss a little too hard for them? Or maybe it’s just scary to see someone who looks like you, or even bigger than you, doing something you have so thoroughly convinced yourself is impossible.

What do you think?


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27 responses to “The Anger Kelly Gneiting Inspires

  1. rhondaroo

    Why can’t anyone run jog or walk a marathon? I do not understand what is threatening to some people. Fat people, thin people, and every size in between have the right to exist. I am proud of Kelly. Those angry people are being silly.

  2. Patsy Nevins

    It is a hell of an accomplishment for anyone to cover over 26 miles on his own feet, at any size. I have exercised my entire life, but I cannot, NEVER could, at any size or level of fitness, walk over 26 miles in one day. He did something which I personally believe is excessive, because too much exercise is as bad for you, sometimes worse & more dangerous, than too little, but he also accomplished something, showed courage, determination, stamina, & the ability to do something a vast majority of thin & average-weight people cannot or at least will not ever do. He refused to give support to their stereotyped belief that fat people are fat because we are gluttonous, lazy, unhealthy, never move, etc., & he dared to be visible in public…as I have heard more than one fat blogger say, he was ‘being fat at them.’

    One thing I have had to learn, after a lifetime of tendency to excessive exercise, is to repeat the mantra, “All the research on the health benefits of exercise can find NO actual health benefits to anything more than 30 minutes of moderate walking daily”, &, yes, in reference to your last post, walking around shopping does count, all movement counts as movement. I support your right to do what YOU want to do, but you do not have to be a triathlete to be a worthwhile person, deserving of respect, or to be healthier or live longer. This gentleman does not have to complete marathons. But if you both want to do these things & show respect for your bodies’ needs & limitations, you have as much right to do what you wish as any thin person. He is an athlete & so are you. I have been all my life in my own way &, now, as my CP, arthritis, & aging catch up with me, I have to be a much more moderate athlete…walking much over 35 or 40 minutes at a time is too much for me, & my legs, especially the left, often wobble & threaten to collapse under me. However, I will move as much as I can for as long as I can, & cheer on those who can do more. Congratulations to both of you on your accomplishments.

  3. Jenna

    I think this is awesome! We need more disinformation like this.

  4. Amy

    Technically, I believe in order to “officially” finish a marathon it has to be in a certain time frame, of which he went over. The max allowable time is around 6 hours. I have a group of friends who trained to walk it in that time frame a few years ago, but all being tall ladies like us, their stride was basically a slow jog even though they were walking.

    • I read it was 8 hours for the LA Marathon, but it wasn’t a reliable source. Also, they start counting the hours from when the last wave goes, so that would give him extra time. I believe he was given an official end time, but again, I’m not sure. I’m also not sure it matters.

      • Amy

        To me, if I were to run or walk a marathon, JUST FINISHING the damn thing would be good enough for me. I am not a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination, I max out around 5.5 mph on a treadmill, which I find easier than road running for many many reasons not the least of which is allergies/asthma.

        But I think the backlash against the sumo guy (he, by profession, a sumo wrestler), comes from that faction of hard core marathoners, who are, let’s face it, INSUFFERABLE at the best of times. 😉

      • I did a treadmill 5K the other day and was ecstatic.

      • Amy

        I’m thinking there are different “official finish times” for professional/elite runners vs everyone else. I mean the winners, both from ethiopia finished in a bit over 2 hours for the man and about 2 hours 30 min for the women in one of the worst rainstorms and winds high enough to almost classify the storm a hurricane LA has seen in eons. Areas of the city got 5-8 inches of rain yesterday, the fact that ANYONE got out there and ran (it was also FREEZING), is amazing to me. lol

  5. RachelB

    I was struck by this quote from Mr. Gneiting– “I was really struggling in the last five miles,” Gneiting said. “But I said to myself, ‘If I have to crawl, I will'”– partly because it’s what everyone I know who has run one has said: the last five miles were pretty awful.

    The chatter on the Runner’s World site? Yeah, I agree with you– that looks kind of like turf-protecting, which I just don’t get. Running belongs to anyone who wants it. His accomplishment doesn’t diminish anyone else’s.

    • That part struck me, too, Rachel. I really think it’s the will to keep on going that I love the most.

      That one comment, about how it probably wasn’t healthy for him to even move. At all. That’s the one that made me say…wtf? This guys is in his 40s. I’m pretty sure that he’s grown-up enough to undertake an athletic endeavor and know when to stop if he’s actually hurting himself. Fat/=stupid.

  6. Miriam Heddy

    I keep coming back to the fact that he’s a freakin’ sumo wrestler, y’know? He was already an athlete *before* he did the marathon.

  7. G

    Marathon runners get testy about their sport being “co-opted” by outsiders (fatties, walkers, half-marathoners, etc). I don’t get this. I have friends who run competitively (marathons, tris) who were totally excited to see me become “one of them”– someone who runs– even if my body isn’t like theirs, and I’m not doing 50 miles a week. It really ought to be an inclusive activity!

    I laud Mr. Gneiting for completing his marathon, and look forward to hearing he beat his time in the next one. 🙂

  8. Bree

    Inside Edition just profiled him. I think it’s great.

    This misplaced anger and the comment that he was probably too unhealthy to move really shows the disconnect many people have towards our bodies. They want us exercising, but at the same time they don’t want us doing it or to see us doing it. The thing is to ignore their mood swings and do what makes us feel good.

    • I agree with the sentiment that they want us exercising, but don’t want to see it. From a sociological stand point, I wonder if some slender people feel like exercise belongs to THEM and don’t like US trying to take it. People are so damn territorial. It’s part of the human condition. Like, imagine that you’re in an airplane and your neighbor sets their drink on your drink tray, rather than pulling down their own. We don’t like people, especially strangers or OTHER in our space. I think it’s our job to carve out space for ourselves in the athletic world, and it’s their job to make room for us, even if they grouse about it.

  9. to avoid all politics, I’m just going to say I like that you have a ‘list of defiant athletes’ …fitness gone rogue!

  10. Great post, Shaunta. I agree with many of the commenters that there’s a sense of fitness being a ‘place for thin,’ like some kind of club (which isn’t so secret, and loves to flaunt its status in public and glass-windowed gyms). I came across this dynamic in college gyms, predominantly, and with those who ran the roads/paths on college campuses.

    There was also the sense that ‘if you ran/exercised like this, you’d be thin like us and in the club!’ Of course, we know (citing a recent study on Amish populations) that exercising for significant weight loss maintenance doesn’t work unless you’re putting in something like 3- 4 hours a day. That is if I, a super-fatty who does 10 miles a week on a resistance elliptical averaging about 4.0 mph, don’t lose weight (and I haven’t and likely won’t), then I don’t belong in the club even if there are thin members of the club who do fewer miles at a slower pace, skip entire weeks and months without consequences, etc etc.

    • I’m usually really comfortable at my gym. I live in a tiny town, I know everyone, and most of the time it’s really pleasant. Occasionally, I’ll end up there at the same time as a group–say a bunch of cheerleaders from the high school or a few weight lifting men–and I feel slightly uncomfortable. When I make myself take a step back, I realize that at least part of the discomfort is me worrying that I’ll be uncomfortable. However, there is the sense that people who are naturally thin have somehow got a leg up. Like they don’t actually have to work at being fit. Thin and fit need to be decoupled, just like fat and unfit.

  11. Dee

    Oh wow. That video made me bawl. I’m such a sentimental wuss sometimes.

  12. Grace

    There’s a lot of runners who are unhappy with the mobs of walkers, run-walkers, and “amateur” athletes who go out and do marathons. The runners feel that if you’re not running the marathon, you’re not really “completing” the marathon, which ignores the reality that all of these other participants do the full 26.2 miles, albeit more slowly than some of the other folks on the course. Also, by having more people participating in these events, a lot of money gets raised for charities, the marathons have more entry fees to support staging races, and you maintain interest in the sport. Yes, some of the commentary at Runners World did appear to be along the lines of “ugh, fat guy”, but more of it was taking issue that he didn’t complete the course in the alotted time.

    FWIW, I’ve completed two marathons, and am training for a third this year. I’m a walker, not a runner, and it took me about 6:45 to complete the Honolulu Marathon. I weighed about 220 at the time, and I came in ahead of a lot of smaller “runners” who might have looked like better athletes if you went by their shirt size. I’m hoping to complete the San Diego Marathon in less than 6:30 in June.

    As long as he’s comfortable and happy with his performance, good for him.

    • I don’t think that running a marathon is about comfort. I’m just guessing, because I’ve never done one. But running 26.2 miles doesn’t sound comfortable at all. Even for someone who is super fit. The man made a goal and then followed through with it. He also shaved two full hours off his personal best time. I would be willing to bet he’s damn happy.

  13. One interesting thing I find is that people don’t seem to talk about is he is a sumo wrestling champion. Sumo wrestlers are athletes! People can’t really seem to fathom any kind of athlete that is *intentionally* fat. But sumo wrestlers are fit and flexible! They train hard for what they do, and this is understood by people in Japan but not really anywhere else.

    • I noticed that, too. And if it is mentioned, it’s mentioned with scorn much of the time. I also hate that people keep saying that he didn’t train. He says that he trained for months.

  14. Squeegeelicious

    This reminds me of something I read somewhere. I believe the point was that a person who worked the hardest their body could go and took 8 hours to complete a race as opposed to the person who worked their hardest and only took 3 worked their body and additional 5 hours. Looking at it from terms of endurance, who worked harder in this scenario? Both pushed themselves to their limits, but the the person who took longer to complete the race, while not moving as fast, had to do it for over double the length of time. From this standpoint, I really don’t think runners have a place to judge the athleticism of jog-walkers, or walkers.

    • Neither do I. I took a two mile walk outside yesterday that KICKED MY BUTT. And all I could think was that walking at my fastest pace for 26.2 miles couldn’t possibly be considered any less than an athletic feat.

  15. Mulberry

    I think the whiners should throw an extra 200 pounds of weight on their backs and see how fast they could complete a marathon. Is there anyone out there who weighs about 200 pounds and wants to volunteer?

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