Ninety-nine percent of the time, blogs, like this one, simply evaporate into the electronic ether, and printed columns are repurposed to line bird cages or wrap fish (assuming they still sell and wrap fresh fish somewhere in America). But once in a blue moon one of them strikes a nerve so strongly it elicits hundreds, even thousands, of reactions, and even rebuttal blogs and columns, attacking the opinions originally expressed.
That was the case this week when Don Stafko wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “OK, You’re a Runner. Get Over It.” Social media being what it is these days, the piece was quickly shared on Facebook and Twitter, and immediately began receiving reactions, most of them negative. Writers from the running segment of the journalistic world felt compelled to respond as well. Ultramarathoner and author Dane Rauschenberg was the first, followed in rapid succession by Mark Remy’s semi-humorous reaction in Runner’s World and a more serious piece by Mario Fraioli in Competitor. And while there is good deal of justification in the indignation all the writers and posters expressed, I have to say there was more than a grain of truth in what Mr. Stafko wrote. Allowing that the truth often hurts, perhaps that’s what put so many who read his piece on the extreme defensive.
Basically, the central theme of Stafko’s piece was that runners are among the most self-congratulatory, attention-seeking group of individuals he’s encountered. And you know what? For the most part, he’s right. Stafko cites as examples the “26.2” and “13.1” stickers that runners plaster on their car bumpers to call attention to the fact that they’ve completed a marathon or half marathon, or the fact that they run in garish, eyeball-grabbing gear, or show up in “civilian” situations wearing workout gear and race T-shirts. But really, is that all that much different than what the rest of American society does in 2013, although perhaps in a slightly less ostentatious manner?
Think about it: even the most mundane, everyday actions, like riding the train, buying a cup of coffee, going to the gym, get broadcast to everyone we know (and many we don’t) via the various social networks. So why shouldn’t runners be part of it? Indeed, every app you can install on your smartphone to track your workouts includes the option to post it to Facebook or Twitter as soon as you’re finished, or in some cases, while you’re still running.
Similarly, the insidious growth of the “everyone’s a winner” philosophy that has permeated youth sports to the point that EVERYONE gets a trophy at end-of-season celebrations of baseball or soccer campaigns has oozed into running as well. Back in the day (and I’m dating myself here) your reward for finishing the Boston Marathon was a paper bowl of tepid beef stew. Now, runners celebrate covering 26.2 miles by purchasing hundreds of dollars of commemorative gear they can wear to the supermarket in the following months. Even the finisher’s medal, a proletarian debasement of the traditional gold, silver and bronze reserved for the top runners in a race, has undergone an even greater devaluation, now being handed out at half marathons or even shorter distance events.
To be sure, runners mostly partake of their sport in a solo, anonymous way, putting in their miles with little fanfare or desire for wider recognition. But there are times all of us toot our running trumpets a bit louder, whether by what we wear or what we stick on our car. And as such, we’re fair game and easy targets for writers like Don Stafko seeking to skewer us, no matter what their motivation.