Friday, April 15, 2011

Does It Matter Why We Run?

Maybe it's perfect timing to read something explosive and divisive like this as I prepare for a Triathlon 101 Clinic aimed at first time triathletes (Julie from Chubby Mommy Running Club and I will be putting this one to help women prepare for the IronGirl Portland Sprint Triathlon). Helping women experience the transformative power of doing their first triathlon is one of the real highlights of the year for me.

But you see, the "real" runner and triathlete over at Frayed Laces (self-defined as "real" apparently because she qualified for Boston and Kona) has her knickers in a wad because other lowly mortals dare to do marathons and then (gasp) have the audacity to call themselves marathoners. Even if they finish in 4 or 5 hours, or more! And they might even eat (bigger gasp) chicken nuggets at the end! Her attitude can be summed up by her closing words:

what I want to scream out is "I train 20 hours a week! I push myself in training to the point of puking! You're doing this once to cross something off your life goal list, and I train harder-harder-harder to get faster each year! I eat, sleep, breathe this sport!"
So, are there too many marathon runners? No, there aren't.  There are too many "chicken nuggets at the end!" marathon runners and not enough "eat, sleep, breathe" runners
As mind-boggling as it is, she thinks that in this world of mounting obesity and a medical/financial diabetes crises looming over our collective heads that will bury our health care system, that too many runners do it for the wrong reasons and should just... well... stop. So they don't sully those of us who are real athletes, you know.

As you might have guessed, I take exception to this viewpoint. You see, the most inspiring moments I've ever had at a triathlon have not been watching someone finish first. They've not even been the times I've finished first. They've been standing at the finish line and watching ordinary people finish. Not folks who can throw twenty hours a week of their lives into the "training" bin, not elite competitors gifted with athletic prowess, but ordinary people with families, jobs, small kids, and other responsibilities. Maybe people who have made the arduous journey from obesity to health. Or from anorexia to health. Or just from the couch to health.

I don't have to tell you that I'm a big ol' sap. I mean, I cry reading Frog & Toad stories to my kids. But when I stand at the finish line of a triathlon or a running race and watch what it means to people to finish, the sniffles start. Waterworks on. And when I've coached those people, seen them go from "I don't think I can run to the next block" to "Wow, I just ran 13.1 miles!" or "I'm afraid to put my face in the water" to "I just finished a triathlon with  a lake swim!", then I'm really sunk at the finish line. I bawl like a big baby.

You see, we're all on this big ball of rock together. It doesn't really matter if someone's faster than me, or if I'm faster than them. What matters is how I feel about my performance, and how I help others feel about theirs. One thing I can guarantee is that even if you're the fastest now, I mean the absolute fastest in the world, someone will come along eventually who will be younger and faster. We all turn 40 and 50, 60, 70, and 80 some day,if we're lucky. Unless we die first. No one is fastest forever.

Or perhaps you'll have an injury that sidelines you, or you'll get pregnant when you least expect it and decide to just become a recreational athlete, or focus on a career that doesn't allow for so much other activity. Any number of things. Some day, you will probably see things from the point of view of just being happy to finish. And I hope when that day comes, the faster athletes give you a high five instead of saying you don't deserve to be there.

29 comments:

Keen Bean Company said...

Loved your post so much I have directed my blog readers to it today!

Stephanie Anne said...

Love the post!! Im going to post it to my blog later today too!

BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

Love it. I read her post yesterday and with a bit of jaw dropping thought how rude. Maybe she should be sponsored by Pearl Izumi as well?

Annette@(running)In the Right Direction said...

I absolutely love this post. I just wrote a post that this would be a great addition to and am going to direct my readers as well. Thanks!!

juliejulie said...

Amen, Sista! I'm as real as any Velveteen Rabbit, and I cry at Frog and Toad, too.

Just a runner said...

Great post! Finally an assuming, no nonsense athlete/blogger I can totally relate to.

Just a runner said...

I meant unassuming. Will link your post to my blog. Hope you don't mind.

Megan said...

Thank you for the validation for 'non-athletes' who get out there to become something they didn't think they could be. Funny how some people think other peoples efforts (or perceived lack thereof)minimize their own. Judgment sucks. Run a mile in MY shoes before you try to tell me what my motivation should be!

Robin said...

Thanks for the links from other blogs! I wrote this last night and then tossed and turned, because I was still so fired up. Then got up to go swim coach this morning with people ranging from 25 - 70 years old. Also heard the story of a guy who has lost 60 pounds and is doing his 2nd triathlon this year. These people are doing amazing things, and I don't regret spouting off about it!

Penny said...

Got lead over to your blog thru Running to Health. I so loved your post. My hat goes off to you. I do get tired of peoople always trying to get a PR in a race. Do they real like to run or is running all about a PR. What ever happen to just running and enjoying it. I did a race last June where I was so worried about getting done by a certain time. I didnt enjoy the race at all. All most decide not to do it this year. But I'm signed up for this year but the difference is I'm a going to run this year to have fun and enjoy all the people on the side of the road. I'll be whooping ahd hollering all the way to the finish line. I did my first marathon last Oct. I decide I was going to enjoy it and all the spectators. Because I went into it with a different perspective. I cant wait to do another marathon I had so much fun. We put way to much stress on ourselves these days. I look forware to reading more of you blog.

LBTEPA said...

Hear hear!

Robin said...

What a wonderful post. It's posts like these that keep me a constant reader of yours.

Marv said...

Trust me, at 68 USAT age, I so appreciate this viewpoint. I hope you don't mind, but want to cite and spin off your post to my own blog -- you gave me an idea.

This is one of your best EVER !

ADventuresinHowtoDo26.2 said...

As a girl who grew up in a "real" runner's shadow, I can totally relate. My mom has been running (and winning) marathons since before I even knew the meaning of the word. In fear of never living up to my mother's accomplishments, I vowed to never become a runner. When I started running two years ago I realized it was not about speed, or competition. It's about a personal sense of accomplishment and watching others experience the same feeling. It's about the freedom you feel as your feet connect to the ground underneath you. I still struggle with whether I can call myself a "real" runner, as I barely ever run a mile faster than 10 minutes. All I know is, when I'm out there running, I feel like a runner and that is enough for me.
I wonder just a little if training to the point of puking really helps at all. Shouldn't that usually be a warning sign that something is very wrong? Vomiting is the body's natural response to poison, of all types. Can we say OCD?

Kathy said...

I posted a comment to her, I've been reading her blog forever and she's not stupid and I honestly don't think she's elitest (or hasn't come across that way until now) I think she's just really young. Maybe not in years but definitely in maturity. That's basically what my comment said but she deleted it.

ANway, I totally agree but I think she is human enough (or was) that she will look back and realize what an idiot she was in that blog post. :)

Kathy said...

and WRT puking, as an AAU (yeah, we had dinosaurs back then TOO!) swimmer, I regularly puked during workouts. Sometimes on a particular bike workout I'll get a bit nauseous and have always taken that as a (completely INSANE) badge of honor. Go figure. :) But I really enjoy pushing my body to find its limits.

danny said...

Both you and Frayed Laces have good points. Remember, 30+ years ago, every champion runner was an amateur. Every new world record, every new course record was earned by someone who had to provide for themselves in some avenue other than their 'sport'.

Even though the world of sport, and in general, has progressed since those days, there is still the romantics out there that yearn for the days where people really busted their ass to achieve something.

A perfect example from the 70s is a young record holding miler named Marty Liquori. He was ranked as the best miler and 5k specialist at different times AND ran a profitable (million dollar) athletic shoe company.

You do bring the valid point that running can be more about life and the process than just numbers. But probably where you and Frayed Laces butt heads is your perspectives. FL sees amateur running as professional running where a person has to support themselves. You see amateur running as recreational running where a person runs purely for feeling good.

Thanks for the post, and food for thought. Check out my blog if you have a chance

Robin said...

@Kathy, I remember that too. If the swim coach put a bucket at the end of every lane, that spelled trouble!

Robin said...

@Danny, you have some interesting points there. But I don't think it has to be Either/Or. Even if some people are making their living running, it takes nothing away from them if other people do it purely for enjoyment.

I live here in Track Town USA where some of the world's fastest runners live and train. Heck, my kids' orthodontist turned in a sub 2:30 marathon. You'd have to break :30 to come in first in a local 10k here. I've been out on the running trails and had Olympic medalists pass me. And you know what? They're nice, they're encouraging, they don't feel threatened by the fact that other slower runners are out there.

I think Frayed Laces has too much of her identity tied up in the fact that she's a "Runner" (with the capitol "R"), and if other lesser mortals can call themselves a runner too, then maybe she doesn't sound so special after all. If everyone around the water cooler has done a marathon, then what do you have to do to stand out?

It's about being comfortable in your own skin, knowing that you own your own accomplishments and nothing anyone else does can take them away from you. Also knowing that your accomplishments do not define you. I suspect she will learn all of this along the way as she matures. At least I hope so.

Greg said...

If anyone wants to read her full post you can find it on my Blog since she has removed it from her blog :

http://locker29.blogspot.com/2011/04/wading-into-fray-and-tuesdays-toning.html

I too have been reading her for a while now, and I think that for the most part, this post was her at her worst moment. At times, I think she comes across as smug (like in this post), but I am sure that she is unaware of how she sounds. This may sound like I am defending her, but I am not at all -- and I tagged her pretty hard in comments on her blog and in my blog for what she said. But, I have seen her many times take time to answer questions, give encouragement, and advice to people of all levels. I think she deserves all the heat she is getting for that post, but it doesn't sum her up as a person. Just like eating chicken nuggets after a run doesn't sum up a person's status as an runner! I hope she see's that now.

Trish said...

I love this community! Just when I'm at an all time low - wondering why I'm torturing myself when I'll never be more than a recreational runner, you write this post! I have wanted to do a triathlon forever but never felt like I could be competitive. Now I know that I am my own strongest competition! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Trail Smitten Mom said...

Reading your post gave me the chills, brought tears to my eyes and hit close to my heart. I just did something yesterday that I'm so proud of. I completed my first triathlon. I was pretty darn proud of myself, but must say that I cheered the loudest for the less stereotypical athletes out there who were so, so brave to train for and get out there and compete. I love how one can be inspired by all types of athletes, from Mutai's Boston record breaking 2:03:02 Boston Marathon to my friend who is training with her WW group to walk her first 5K. Inspiration comes in all forms if you're open to it. Thanks for your powerful post!

livingrunnersworld said...

This was great! I totally agree w. every single word! Lately my runs haven't completely been wiping me out (I just started marathon training for the first time) and I have been staying and cheering on other finishers! It makes me so proud to see them pushing and sort of push a little harder when someone (ME!) is cheering them to the finish!

Tina M. Harris said...

Interesting ... I clicked on the link to the post by FrayedLaces and got a message saying the post doesn't exist. Perhaps she realized how stupidly wrong-headed her post was? Anyhow, if people like me decided that it was "run 'til you puke" or don't even bother exercising, I would still be 73 pound heavier and on my way to countless health problems. If someone completes a triathlon, they ARE a triathlete, period. Thanks so much for your post!

Momma K and her Krew said...

Yeah, in love with your post. I so so so feel that way. If you run youre a runner. Nobody knows what baggage is crossing that finish line, what it means mentally or physically. Nobody by the one doing the moving. And 26 miles is a long run for one and the longest run ever for another. Its still 26 miles and we all still did it. Kudos.

Robin said...

Wow, I am in awe and so inspired by the comments on this post.

@Trish, go out and do that Triathlon, you will LOVE it! Most people think triathletes will all be intimidating and scary fast, but I've found them to be a very welcoming bunch, especially to first-timers. You will have a terrific time.

Actually, make sure you take a read through @Trail Smitten Mom's race report (click on her name in the comments here to find it). It sounds like she experienced that wonderful welcomgin atmosphere as she rocked her first triathlon recently!

@Trail Smitten Mom, did you do the Beaver Freezer?

Robin said...

@Trail Smitten Mom: Oops, that last part of my last comment was before I read the race report and saw you did the Albany Tri. Congrats again, that's a nice race and you did terrific!

Becky said...

Thank you Robyn. I'm sidelined by injury right now, and trying to still call myself a runner (you know how you don't run for a week and you feel you can't be called a runner anymore?)

Lindsay Owen said...

Quite simply I think I love you. Fantastic post. Absolutely fantastic!