Writer and political consultant Chad Stafko isn’t a runner and he’s proud of that. So proud, he feels it necessary to disparage those who are – particularly those who are new to running – in his recent free-lance op-ed that (somehow) made it into my Wall Street Journal this morning.
His entire piece is summed up by this line: “Running a marathon is hard enough without also patting yourself on the back every step of the way.”
How does he know, I wonder? Given that he closed the piece with “I saw a great new bumper sticker the other day. It read 0.0. I’ll take one of those, please.”, I would guess that he’s not in a position to give informed commentary.
Chad’s major beef with runners these days is that he believes many “new” runners are doing it just to get attention. He is clearly annoyed by the increasingly popular “26.2” or “13.1” stickers that are popping up on the rear windows of cars all across America as many runners advertise their latest achievement. (Triathletes often adorn their cars with similar “70.3”, “140.6”, or Ironman “M-dot” stickers as well.) He comments that when someone runs down the street, everyone in the vicinity notices, particularly if they’re adorned in brightly colored running gear. He bemoans the abundance of running stores, running magazines, and running apparel, all capitalizing on the explosion of running popularity.
All of this is a bad thing?
In a country where a full one-third of the population is obese, and some estimates have another one-third as overweight, I would say it’s the exact opposite. I would rather someone be proud of their half-marathon effort, and share that accomplishment, than have them question whether they should try it because some cynic might make fun of their race t-shirt.
To me, it’s not about what their motivation is, nor about how they look while doing it. The fact that they’re out being active is a good thing. When someone starts running to train for a marathon, and decides they want to put a little sticker on the back of their car when they meet their goal, they should do it. Sometimes, seeing a friend succeed is enough to push someone else over the edge into taking up a new challenge of their own. When “average Joe” goes out and runs a marathon, his story might motivate other “average Joes”.
I guess that’s why I don’t understand why this “You’re a runner, get over it!” mentality exists. Just like many critics of CrossFit, I don’t understand why some – particularly those who aren’t into fitness in any meaningful way – feel the need to take shots at these and other activities. For the most part, no highlighter-yellow-shirt-wearing runner is infringing on the rights or conveniences of others. No CrossFitter talking about their “paleo” diet is causing economic strife. Kipping pull-ups aren’t hurting puppies.
I’ve addressed a couple of criticisms of CrossFit (here and here) before, and some are valid to an extent. The fact remains that many folks from whom I’ve read and heard these criticisms are “under-active” or people who haven’t ever tried CrossFit: the very people who stand to benefit from setting their excuses aside and doing something. Some of them remind me of the cool kids that yell “Run, Forrest, run!” every time they see someone jogging down the street. I suspect Mr. Stafko is in this crowd. (Stick to politics, Chad.)
Some long-time runners are even joining the cynicism. I recently read where someone believed running has become to adults as youth soccer to kids. Indeed, more and more races are giving “Finisher” medals once reserved for half-marathons and longer. Post-race beer gardens and pizza are common.
So what? It doesn’t make me a better runner because I don’t eat the pizza, drink the beer, or care about the medal. I don’t personally have any stickers on my car. I can do without knowing about every run someone does via Nike Plus on Facebook
But, I see how those things add to the positive experience for a lot of people. If a beer garden or a “26.2” sticker helps get more people out moving, it’s worthwhile, even if I don’t happen to participate. We’re all motivated by different things.
It’s rare that someone gives credit for something unless you’re willing to take credit for yourself. While it’d be great if everyone was intrinsically motivated, sometimes the ability to publicly take pride in an accomplishment gives the little push that it takes to get out the door. Sometimes, the positive attention that you get from “bragging” a little bit is motivation enough to keep on moving. Whatever works for you. I know that when I decide to tackle my first Ironman, I’ll let people know – there’s no backing out after that!
So, I say when you achieve something for which you’ve worked, save the medal, eat the pizza, visit the beer garden, wear the t-shirt, and yes, put the sticker on your car if you want. Post your accomplishment on Facebook or Strava or Athlinks. Most importantly, ignore the cynics – runners or (especially) not.
You’re out there doing your thing. Challenging and impressing yourself is what matters most.