Stop Asking Me Why I Run

In one of my classes the other day, we had an editor come in to talk about his experience and listen to our story pitches. He was funny, a former high-flying New York writer who succumbed to drug problems back in the day and is now on the rebound.

It was all cool until we got to my pitch. I had decided to write about what it’s like to race as a pro triathlete, yet never quite be good enough to actually make it. I thought it’d be interesting to people and interesting to talk about the system of never-was athletes underneath all the successful ones.

I got one sentence in — “I raced as a professional triathlete for three years.” — and he interrupted to say, “As an addict, you know what it sounds like to me, it sounds like you’re addicted.”

Um, yeah, I dunno, shrug, shrug.

He kept going: Why else would you do it? You must be addicted to it. Endorphin rush and stuff, right? I’ve heard of that.

Everyone thought this was genius. I kept shrugging — yeah, I dunno, this sounds more about you than me — until eventually I got really annoyed. Later, the rest of the class couldn’t quite figure out why it was really annoying, what if he just called it “passion” instead of “addiction.” And, anyway, they just all find the question of why anyone would do these sports so fascinating.

It’s not.

People tend to think that comparing a desire to run (et al) to an addiction is super witty. So original. So funny. See it’s supposed to be healthy, but it’s an addiction, so it’s not healthy; you’re addicted to being healthy. Hahahaha, I am so clever.

It’s actually probably the second or third most common thing people say. The first being, “Oh my god, that’s just soooo amazing. I could never do that. I don’t even know how you do that. It must take so much discipline.” Not that I’m not amazing, obviously, but there’s a creating of otherness here that I find strange. At the highest level of sports, yes, there is a degree of commitment and self-sacrifice that is not normal and that is also no different from what you would find at the highest levels of music or dance or writing or competitive holding your breath to see how deep you can dive. Any of these things are exceedingly hard and require a stunning degree of discipline, talent, and luck. But, I am not at that level. Neither are most of the people who run or do triathlon or bike or swim or Crossfit or whatever. I have very little insight into what it takes at that level. I am, most likely, at the same level (in our respective interests) as you, as the person asking the question and acting like I am so different from them.

Some people play video games. Some people sing a cappella. Some people are in competitive chess leagues. Some people are recovering drug addicts and former hard-partying New York writers. And, some people run. We are not so different, you and I. And, we are not all the same either.

Here’s the answer to your question: People do sports for all the different reasons that people do anything.



Why the Wall Street Journal ‘Runners Suck’ Op-Ed Might Be a Little Right

The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed on Tuesday called “OK, You’re a Runner. Get Over It.” If you’re reading this blog, chances are you saw it, so I’m mostly just explaining this for my mom. You probably saw it, because for some reason every runner on the internet got really upset about it and felt the need to say this on the internet.

It’s as if these people have never read The Wall Street Journal before.

If you didn’t read it, the summary is: there are a lot of people who run and they talk about it and they put stickers on their cars and they buy running stuff and post on Facebook about their runs and this guy thinks they’re just doing it for the attention and he is sick of it.

For someone who gets angry about a lot of things, I did not get angry about this. I mostly didn’t care, not even a little. But, then people started writing responses — Mario had a nice one about welcoming the writer to try running and the Runner’s World “translation” was the funniest, but their’s were not the only ones — and it went all viral-y and then I started to care. Because most of the responses went all running mysticism and waxed eloquent about how running’s not about the attention, it’s about something more, etc. They surmised that runners are deeper, wiser beings looking for answers inside themselves, who are not driven by cheap things like pride and attention.

Yeah, I’m calling bullshit.

Here’s the thing:

If “running” is not about people liking you and congratulating you and extolling your amazingness as a runner/athlete, then why do you care that someone isn’t. If running is really about your own journey, then why is this op-ed so upsetting.

It’s upsetting because, really, truthfully, it’s not like hundreds of thousands of dollars of race merchandise is sold just so people just wear it only inside their own homes. It’s not like Strava is a thing just so people can not show others what they did. It’s not like all the social running apps and the posting to facebook and putting your training in public places are so popular because you don’t want recognition.

And, let’s not pretend that “runners” are any one thing. There are some that do it for the love and some that do it for the money and some who do it simply because it’s very, very trendy.

Running has not always been popular. In high school, when I was on the cross-country team, it was painfully unpopular. This is no longer the case. Running is cool now. Running is trendy. It’s very much an ‘in’ thing to do. And there are many, many people who do it because it is The Thing to do. That may not always be the case, but it is the case now. Lots of us feel like this still isn’t true. Lots of us feel like running is still supposed to be something different, something uncool and reflective of a dark need in your soul that you don’t discuss in polite company. We still have the nerdy kid complex, but it’s time to admit we’re actually the prom queen. No one likes the movie star who goes around still insisting they’re a geek.

Running is cool. It didn’t get that way by not being a little bit about showing off. And that means some people aren’t going to like the cool kids. If you aren’t doing it to be cool, if you aren’t doing it to show off, then don’t care.