Friday, November 22, 2013

Are Most Runners Really Self-Important Assholes? Kinda, Yeah.

Running is more popular than ever. I could validate that statement with a nice number from some article, but I won't. Look outside for a few minutes-- that should be enough proof. If it's not, I don't know what to tell you. The internet is a big place. Go find something else to read.

More people are running races.

5ks! 10ks! Halfs! Marathons! Ultras!

And more types of races are sprouting up every week.

Spartan races! Tough Mudders! Color Runs! Neon Runs, whatever the fuck those are!

You don't even have to compete to see it. Just look at your facebook, twitter or instagram newsfeed every weekend. Running is officially trendy. There's always a backlash when anything gains popularity, and runners are starting to take more heat.

Wall Street Journal ran an article last week (Jump ) by Chad Stafko. Click the link if you want the full, but this quote sums it up.

There is one kind of bumper sticker I see almost daily here in my small Midwestern town: a small oval printed with "26.2" or "13.1." ...There is only one reason running aficionados display the stickers. They want the rest of us to know about their long-distance feats.
I have a theory. There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them.
These days, people want more than ever to be seen. This is the age of taking a photo selfie and posting it on Facebook
Stafko is half right and half wrong. But before I explain why, I should give you a reason to listen to me. I'm a runner whose atttitude toward other runners is somewhere between indifference and contempt. I ran track (200,400,800, dabbled in the mile) and cross country throughout high school and briefly in college. I run a handful of 5ks a year, and if I don't win, I come pretty close. I understand the world of the runner just as much as I do the runner hater, ok? With that out of the way...

Stafko is right when he says runners want people to know they're a runner. What's a bumper sticker doing if it isn't broadcasting information about yourself to strangers?  But runners oversharing their exercise doesn't stop with bumper stickers. There's the running shoes/race watch guy at your office, the foul weather runners (the people who lace up their shoes as soon as the sky gets dark because they're THAT hardcore), the joggers in all neon during their lunch break (LOOK AT ME!!! Are you looking????), the people who tweet their runkeeper or whatever app workout results and the "I'm Wearing My Race T Shirt Everywhere" guy. Ok, I'm kinda guilty of wearing my race t shirts but it has less to do with bragging and more to do with dirty laundry.

Most runners want people to know they're runners. That's obvious. What's less obvious is why they act like a 10 year showing off his sick dives at the pool. 

There are 2 major reasons why runners draw attention to their running.

1- It's a time consuming habit. It takes a long time to run 10 miles. You are what you do. If you spend a lot of time on something it shows up in your actions or personality. In this case it's social media bragging, bumper stickers and a holier than thou attitude. I'll talk about running way more when I'm training for a race because I don't have anything else to talk about.

-So what have you been up to?

-Working and running. I make excel spreadsheets and go run by myself for an hour. Would you like to hear more?

If you see me at a party, walk the other way. I'm not an interesting conversation.

2-  Running attracts a distinct personality. The entire running community can fit into these neat categories-

-They didn't play other sports so they feel like they're "real" runners and they want the world to know it.

-They're hyper-competitive people who played other sports but discovered adults don't play soccer or basketball very often so they turned to running as a competitive outlet. 26.2 stickers are grown up varsity letters.

-They want to be "fit". They get tricked by magazines and nike ads into spending hundreds of dollars on a sport that only requires shoes and open space. Hey, if you spend all the money on the gear you gotta wear it.

-They want to fit in. The running community can be a tight knit (albeit, culty) tribe. If you're new to a city and want to make friends, you should join a running club. You get all the friends and cool gear like you're in a gang, just without the gun violence.

I will fight tooth and nail, blog and tweet with anyone who disagrees with anything I wrote above. Hell, I'll race anyone offended.

The majority of runners are doing it to do it. They don't like it. They like being a runner because it's a vaunted social status. Runners are healthy, thin, fit, active, energetic and ambitious. Well, that's what society thinks they are. So why wouldn't people try to project that?

Some people just like to run.

But it's a broad brush. Stafko is 1/2 right, so he's also 1/2 wrong. Some people just like to run. Running only requires time and space. And shoes. You need shoes. When you're running, you're going to be outside. People are going to see you. Big whoop. You can't do anything outside in a city without being seen so that can't be used to prove runners love attention. What if kite flying became popular? You can't fly a kite inside. Would that mean the people who loved flying kites were only doing it because people would see them? (Can flying kites PLEASE be the next cool trend? How do we make this happen?)

Some people just like to run.

I do. It's something I'm good at, something I've always been good at. Probably the only thing I've ever really been good at. It always made sense. Some people run to think; I run to not think. It's the only thing that lets me shut off my brain. It's exhausting and weirdly energizing.

I like the last mile of a run, that mile where I'm tired but I want to see how much I have left. I like the days where there's more left than I thought. Those are good days. But I like the days where I try to find that next gear and can't. Those are the days where you find your limit. And that's why I run. Not to wear t shirts, or win trophies, or make new friends. I run because it's the only way I know how to really stretch myself until I almost break. And sometimes you do break. I have.  A few times actually.

But you rest, and you come back to it because it's the one thing that makes sense, that always made sense. Everything else can fall apart but as long as your legs work you can still lace up your shoes and get back to that place where nothing matters except putting one foot in front of the other.

Some people just need to run.

-Joe Turner (@Joe_Turner00)


  1. "But you rest, and you come back to it because it's the one thing that makes sense, that always made sense. Everything else can fall apart but as long as your legs work you can still lace up your shoes and get back to that place where nothing matters except putting one foot in front of the other.

    Some people just need to run."

    I love this.

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