The People of 3:40:11

To all runners with a time of 3:40:11, this is an open letter to you, from one 3:40:11 to another.

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How, in our modern age of timing chips where finishes are measured accurately to the hundredth of a second, is it physically possible that two people could run a single marathon course in exactly the same time? The thousands of steps, the dozens of miles, in precisely the same time, to a fraction of a second? Maybe it’s no problem for palace guards or synchronized swimmers, but normal people?

Imagine the difficulty if you were to attempt it – to keep pace to the millisecond with another person for four hours or so. To stay in perfect sync for just over 42,000 strides. Maybe in an event with huge field of finishers, this result might happen from time to time. But it seems unlikely.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at the results of my most recent marathon and found myself in lock step amidst a crowd of no less than eight other people sharing with me the exact time. 3:40:11.

In total, nine runners finished that marathon in 3:40:11. Eight men, one woman. Ranging in age from 25 (2) to 48 (2 of us). Runners from Texas (howdy), Illinois (3), New York, Brazil (2), Columbia and the Philippines.

This discovery left me with many questions. Did the Brazilians know each other? Did my fellow 48-year-old also get cramps and swear off marathons forever? Did the other eight lay awake at night knowing that they now belong to a secret fellowship, longing to reach out and contact the other members, but restrained from doing so by social convention and sober minded spouses?

Then it hit me. Maybe 3:40:11 is just a very common finishing time — a kind of golden mean — an ideal natural pace that the best and most attuned runners fall into. Perhaps there are hundreds of us. Perhaps thousands. A global cohort. A pacing village. 3:40:11s could probably be found at every marathon in the Rock ’n’ Roll series.

So I did some research. I checked the results for the 2017 Rock ’n’ Roll marathons, starting with the DC RnR in March. No 3:40:11s. Zero in New Orleans. None in Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona. So I looked back at 2016. Surely at the big daddy, Las Vegas RnR, would have a few. I only found a big bunch of nope.

In desperation, I searched the 2016 San Antonio Rock ’n’ Roll, and event I’ve run and loved. Bingo! I jumped out of my chair and pumped a fist, having found a new Brother of the Order of 3:40:11.

When the elation wore off, and after I made a credible excuse to my co-workers, the realization dawned on me that 3:40:11 was not, indeed, some kind of ideal/universal time. It’s a good time. No Boston Qualifier or anything gaudy, but respectable, above average. It’s not my best time ever or my worst. It is however, my time. A clear expression and representation of my experience that day.

A time is certainly not the ultimate or only measure of a race. And, unfortunately, lots of us runners have been time obsessed for one reason or another. I’ve obsessed over numbers out of competitiveness with myself or others, my desire to BQ (never have), and as a way to track the progress of aging (quick). It’s a bad idea, like reading comments on political news articles or reviews of your favorite Adam Sandler comedy.

One thing that time has never done for me, until that particular 3:40:11, was make community. Community is one of running’s greatest gifts, in my opinion. I’d always felt like a focus on time was kind of divisive element in running — creating running “frenemies.” But with my fellow 3:40:11s I felt quite the opposite.

But we aren’t clones, despite our synchronicity. While I have not actually contacted my fellow 3:40:11s (thanks, honey), I imagine that while we all had differing feelings about that number, and that each experience of the course and the day was completely unique. That’s the other amazing thing about running: I cannot be reduced to just a number. Even one that we have in common.

This featured story was written by SmartyPants Vitamins. For more content like this, check out our website!