Posted by: runawaynotes | November 14, 2013

Thoughts…

This week I came across two different articles about running. One was in WSJ, the other in Runner’s World. One was filled with derision, the other was sad but uplifting. The first one left me feeling annoyed and a bit defensive. And the second one… the second one showed me exactly why the first article was completely irrelevant. If you are a runner, you’ve probably come across at least one of these articles. The first one is “Ok, You’re a Runner. Get Over it” by Chad Stafko. The second one is “Jim’s Last Group Run” by Jason Andersen. 

So, what was so special about these two articles? Well, Mr. Stafko’s piece was not terribly original. For some reason, there seem to be plenty of people hating on the 26.2 bumper sticker. I mean, of all the bumper stickers to hate you’re going to pick this one? Of all the bumper stickers that people put on their cars that proclaim any type of trivial information about them, from their political or religious affiliation, to the number of their family members, to the fact that their child plays lacrosse and that they love their French Poodle, you are going to pick a bumper sticker that says “I’ve done something fun and cool and I’m proud of it” and you are going to be annoyed by THAT?! Right. That totally makes sense. But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I am sure I get annoyed by things that other people find perfectly endearing.

But what really set my teeth on edge about Mr. Stafko’s article was its underlying message that everything that runners do (i.e. put bumper stickers on their car, wear running shoes/clothing and reflective gear, talk about running, actually RUN), that all of these things are driven by essentially one desire – TO GET ATTENTION. Specifically, we do this to get attention of people like Mr. Stafko, i.e. non-runners. Here’s what he says

People want attention and crave appreciation. If you’re actually doing something like running—covering ground, staying healthy, almost even having fun—what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire? The lone runner is a one-person parade. Yay.

You know, if I was mildly amused while reading the first part of the article, this paragraph actually made me annoyed. What kept me from getting outright angry with the author was the sheer ridiculousness of his suggestion. Really, Mr. Stafko? You really think that my running is all about you? You are actually suggesting (with a straight face) that my friends and I get out of bed at 4:30 am in sweltering Texas summer heat, put our shoes on and hit the road for 20 miles just so that we can have a large audience observing our return in all our sweaty, dusty, sometimes bloody, and occasionally puke-y miserable glory. And then we put the 26.2 bumper sticker on our car just to scream in every non-runners face “Hey, look at ME!!!” Of course, that is precisely why we do the things that we do [not]. 

I was shaking my head after reading this article. I knew that the author was wrong, and I really wish I could come up with an explanation good enough to make someone like that understand why we do the things that we do. And then I came across the second article. And as my eyes started to fill up with tears while reading it, I thought to myself: “This is it. This is why we do it”. Jason Andersen’s article is a bitter-sweet tribute to his friend, Jim Kelley, who passed away this month. The article talks about the kind of person that Jim was, about his love for running, and about the positive impact he made on those around him. The article opens with a heartbreaking photo: a group of people wearing their tech shirts and tights and sneakers are running on what appears to be a nice fall day; they are running after a hearse carrying their friend’s body to his final resting place.

And when I read the explanation of how this photo was taken, this is where it clicked in my head. This is why we run. Because running makes us feel alive. Because running makes us feel like we are part of the team. Because running makes us feel like we belong. Even now, when my training is done and my goal race has been successfully accomplished, I still wake up early on Saturday and Sunday mornings when I know that my friends are going to be waiting for me to hit the road together. Every time I pass a car with the 26.2 or 13.1 bumper sticker, I smile to myself. I smile because I feel like even though I don’t know anything else about the person driving this car, I know that we have something in common. I feel like somehow we are on the same team. The people in the photo were not running to show off. They were not trying to get attention. They were running because this is what gave them comfort in a sad moment like that. This is what made them feel close to the friend they’ve lost and close to each other.

There is no doubt that long distance running is about pride to some degree. We are all proud of how hard we have pushed ourselves, the new distances we’ve conquered, the new PR’s we’ve set. However, pride alone won’t get you out of the house on a miserable, rainy, chilly winter evening because you have hill repeats that night. But the fact that your friends will be out there waiting for you in the rain will do just that. And yes, you might be wondering “Why am I doing this to myself?” as you feel the cold rain soak through your shirt and hear the water squishing in your shoes. But when you are walking back to your (26.2 bumper sticker decorated) car in your soaking wet running gear and your squishy shoes, and you’re cracking jokes and high-fiving each other on a job well-done, that’s when you remember why you keep doing this again and again. I hope some day Mr. Stafko will be able to understand this.

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Responses

  1. Great thoughts Vera. Touching to me as a former runner.


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