November 15, 2013
So runners seem to be up in arms about a recent article written in the Wall Street Journal by Chad Stafko. Having read it I have to say I really don’t understand his stance. I am not sure who Chad Stafko is, but he seems to be someone that is simply annoyed at healthy people or people trying to better themselves. His logic is along the lines of being annoyed that someone with high cholesterol decided to skip the Slim Jims or Roald Amundsen dared to trek to the South Pole (and the North Pole for what it is worth). While we are at it, that Jonas Salk was a no-good show-off sharing his polio vaccination with everyone. Couldn’t he have the common decency to simply be modest and keep his accomplishments to himself?
Before I proceed, I have to say that I am acutely aware that making such claims are akin to Howard Stern shock jock tactics in just saying outrageously outlandish things to evoke reaction without any actual conviction or believe in what you spew.
But since Mr. Stafko decided to voice his opinion on the matter than runners need to get over it, revert to a sedentary state and I am a sucker for a good argument here we go.
I am sure there are runners out there that are in it for the social acknowledgement, but lets break that down just a little before we condemn these superficial folks. To slap on a 26.2 sticker on your bumper, even if you are just showing off, you still have to train for several months and then run 26.2 frickin’ miles. I don’t care how superficial you are, that is not a fun or easy experience. The commitment to a 16-26 week training program that drags your ass out of bed at stupid hours of the morning, regardless of how cold or hot it is outside (and it is always one or the other at some point in your training) isn’t for the meek. While all your friends are heading out for a late dinner and drinks on a Friday night, you bid them adieu and head to bed by 8:30, knowing you will be pounding pavement in a couple of hours. Running for three plus hours on a Saturday morning covered in sweat, grime and God only knows what other bodily fluid is not quite as pleasant at sitting in a Starbucks with your Mac penning animosity. Then when it comes to race day, everyone, and I mean everyone comes to that point when every bit of their rational self tells them they can not venture one single step farther, yet somehow, someway their internal will propels the left foot in front of the right one only to repeat again and again and again. He seemingly boasts why run 10 miles when you have a perfectly good car to drive it as if it is as crazy as bathing in beef bullion and challenging a pack of rabid wolves to a wrestling match. How about not wanting to be a fat ass with high blood pressure and 350 cholesterol? So, if someone wants a little superficial acknowledgement, so be it. They ran 26.2 frickin miles afterall. They have done something that .5% of the US population has accomplished.
Now lets chat a little more about just want to be seen running around. Well as I previously mentioned, typically I am out the door before anyone wakes up. Training in the summer here in the comfortable Arizona summer when the lows are often in the mid 90s, I often run 20 miles in the dark, am showered and back in bed before the kids even wake up much less the neighbors. The only other people I see are fellow runners, so I am really not getting all that much attention. Then lets think more about wanting to be seen? My Running with Rage pals have all had incidents involving pee, poop, vomit and pretty much every other human disgustingness you can imagine. Not really show off moments. Lastly my favorite long run is from Central Phoenix down to South Mountain along Central. The reason I like this so much, it is a nice, long, lonely run where it is just me and my run. I rarely even listen to music on these runs as I don’t want to be disturbed by the outside world.
Do runners like to talk about running? Hell yes we do. Just like golfers like to talk about golf. Just like cancer researchers like talking about proton therapy. Just like Republicans like to talk about the Second Amendment (the First they can take it or leave it). Just like writers like to talk about about literature and being published. People like to discuss their passion. Typically runners like to talk to other runners about running. I was recently at the Inc. 5000 Conference and on the opening night I attended the kick-off party. I didn’t really know anyone, but I met this cool woman, Jennifer, that was also runner. She has run races around the world. We compared experiences and had an instant bond that made it then easier to also discuss our respective businesses. I believe the term they use is rapport. It is a social skill. I then met the president of Inc. Bob LaPointe, a famous motorcycle enthusiast, and you know what we talked about? Not running. I recalled my memories of riding my motorcycle along the foothills of the Catalinas in Tucson at sunset. There really isn’t anything wrong with talking about your passions and being proud of your accomplishments. I am sure even Chad might have mentioned being published in WSJ with a little sense of pride once or twice.
But the biggest reason runners are the coolest people on the planet is running is all about community. Sure we run alone, but we belong to a bigger group. We are a group that, despite all of our diversities, are united by our commitment to this most primal activity. There are worse people out there than a group who can set audacious goals whether it be running a 5K when you get winded walking to the mailbox or signing up for a marathon or even longer distance race. And then accomplish them! The famous Mount Everest explorer Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “People do not decide to become extraordinary, they decide to accomplish extraordinary things”. That is how runners view each it. I used to golf and there was a competition between golfers usually leading them to exaggerate their abilities and accomplishments. I can’t count the number of single digit handicappers I have known that were incapable of breaking 80. Runners are different. We don’t compete against each other. Surely we try and beat each other in a race, and I have to admit I thoroughly enjoy that, while Jeff has me beat on every other distance, I hold the marathon PR over him. But when it comes down to it, I am cheering him on to be his absolute best and he does the same for me. When one of us is down, the other picks him up. Runners enjoy each others accomplishments almost as much as we enjoy our own.
I remember being at Scotty’s wedding, standing in the kitchen talking with him and Shelly, my counterpart in the wedding party. Scotty is rather fast and I was a little faster than Shelly but the interesting thing was, as we shared our experiences, I realized despite our different times arriving at the finish line, they were all basically the same. This was reinforced later when after the Detroit Marathon Jeff, Scotty and I were eating our post run meal, talking about the day’s race. I mentioned that it took every bit of my will power to run past the 13.1 turn-off and to continue on with the marathon (in a big part due to Jeff running with me step for step, encouraging me despite not having the best race to that point). I was amazed when Scotty then said there wasn’t a marathon he has run that he didn’t have the same exact thought at some point. This was a guy that just ran a 2:35 marathon and came in 11th place overall! Jeff and I also ended up with a PR that day. While I was struggling in the mid miles, I was able to return the favor when Jeff had his own struggles later.
Whenever I talk to Scotty I am always reminded how great and inclusive the running community is. He runs at a whole other level than anyone else I know (other than Mark Cosmos that runs 10o miles races, but that is another story) and has every right to feel elite yet he is impressed by everyone else. He has told me he thinks the accomplishment of the 5 hour marathoner is more impressive than his. This is a guy that runs sub 6:00 miles for a marathon. He said if he had to run for that long of a time period, he couldn’t do it. This wasn’t said in a arrogant manner, but rather genuine admiration that someone is so dedicated to their goal, they are going to accomplish it no matter how long it takes. When I see someone that is obese running at a pace that most would consider walking, I think how frickin awesome it is they they are out there trying to make themselves better. This is a point that our dear old Mr. Stafko just can’t comprehend. It is easier to shun or mock people for doing things we can’t or won’t than to truly admire them. To a runner, any person that is willing to lace up the shoes and head out the door is to be applauded, regardless of any results after that.
Lastly, the running community is all about supporting the spirit and will of the human race. This extends beyond just the actual runners, Chad Stafko excluded. As I mentioned, it doesn’t matter if you are an obese person running 100 yards, or Wilson Kipsing setting the marathon world record in Berlin or a mid-pack running like most of my peers. Go to any race and you will see people of every ability lining up at the race, but you also see hundreds eor ven thousands of volunteers working at a race, giving there own personal time. Then look on the streets and you see people cheering on complete strangers, encouraging them through their struggles as if there were BFFs, passing out gummy bears at mile 18 in Indian Village. Everyone, runners, volunteers and supporters are unified in their appreciation of effort. That is all anyone in the running community ever asks. Give effort, and you are rewarded. That is why the events at Boston earlier this year messed with me so much. Of course I had my issues with being so close to the bombs and the what ifs that I couldn’t quiet in my head, but what traumatized me the most was how the Tsarnaev brothers attacked an event that celebrated greatness in humankind. Thousand and thousands of people with no agenda other than striving and cheering for greatness we assaulted. Runners had trained for years to compete in the most prestigious contest of human endurance. While I can not say I understand the motive behind such acts, I can attest for the effectiveness of terrorism in doing as the name suggests creating a constant state of terror and unsettledness in a community. What I can not understand is the choice of targets, attacking churches, schools, and even The Boston Marathon, outside if the Olympics, they greatest testament to human will and perseverance. They attempted to erode the will of the community and yet all they did was strengthen it, in a large part due to the will to overcome adversity of the running community.
It just seemed counter-intuitive. Just like Chad Stafko’s article.