Learning With: ‘A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus’

Learning With: ‘A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus’

Before reading the article:

You are playing Fortnite all afternoon. You’re really killing it, and after a few close calls and a little luck, you’ve reached the final two teams. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door: It’s your parents. You have to stop playing and come to dinner!

Or …

You are at school. You have prepared furiously for a class presentation for weeks. You failed the last test and this is your chance to redeem yourself. You nervously stand to give your presentation, but you know this is your time to shine … and the bell rings. Class is over.

How do you think you would feel? Would you shout? Cry? Laugh?

Now, imagine you have been training for months for a race. You get up at dawn and run for hours. Sweat pours down your face and your body wants to give up, but you refuse to quit. Suddenly, a law enforcement agent approaches and tells you you must stop.

On a frustration scale of 1-10, would you be at an 11? Just how mad, disappointed or humiliated would you be?

Well, this scenario is just what happens to some runners every year at the Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon, Fla.

Now, read the article “A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus” and answer the following questions:

1. Why does the Seven Mile Bridge Run have to end by 9 a.m., exactly an hour and a half after it began?

2. What is the “shag bus?” How did it get its name? Who operates it?

3. Why do so many races have time restrictions, unlike, say, the Boston Marathon, where runners theoretically can continue at any speed for as long as they like?

4. What are some of the reasons runners are pulled off? Why do you think they feel compelled to offer excuses to others on the shag bus?

5. The article ends with the story of a runner who was rounded up by the shag bus, but escaped as it neared the finish line:

Taking advantage of the distraction, a runner who had been quietly sulking at the front of the bus suddenly got up and sprinted for the door, slipping past [a sheriff’s deputy, Frank] Westerband. He proceeded to jog unimpeded all the way to the finish line, where he was greeted with applause from runners who had managed to complete the course without riding the bus.

There was a moment of stunned silence on the shag bus, as the passengers contemplated the unethical nature of the man’s action and wondered why they had not thought of it first.

Do you think the runner’s action was unethical? Would you have cheered when he reached the finish line? Would you have done the same thing if you had been on the shag bus and had the same opportunity to slip past the driver?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What is your reaction to the story and the tale of “laggards,” “stragglers” and what the author describes as “disgraced runners”? How would you have reacted if you were one of the runners who was ordered onto the shag bus?

— What do you think is the author’s point of view on the runners who end up on the shag bus? Is she sympathetic to their plight, or do you think she is gently poking fun at them? What do you think is the author’s take on the authorities whose job it is to pull the runners off the track? What’s your evidence for your conclusions? Why do you think a story about people who are unable to finish a seven mile race was featured in The New York Times?

— In a 2010 Opinionator post, “The Power of Failure,” William D. Cohan writes:

In his May 2009 baccalaureate address to Duke’s graduating class, Sam Wells, the dean of Duke University Chapel, hoped the students would “never be dazzled by your own success … and not pretend success is everything or success makes you immortal. And, most of all, that you’ll let your life begin the day you really, seriously fail, and let that day be the day you discover who you truly are and whether that failure is really in a cause that will finally succeed. … The most powerful person in the world is the one who isn’t paralyzed by the fear of their own failure.”

Do you agree? Can failure be useful? What about humiliating failure? Can you think of examples from your own life or someone else’s, when failure has led to something positive?

— It is often said that sports teach life lessons. (You can read examples here and here.) What lessons have you learned from participating in sports? Does the article change how you think about winning and losing? Will it make your next loss easier to swallow?

— Look at the photos featured in the article. Select one image and write thought bubbles for the people in the photo, or use the picture to create a meme about sports, competition, success or failure.