Category: Musings

AWOL

Sometimes it’s good to take a break. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I had meant to post this two weeks ago, but life had other plans for me.

Up until ten days ago, I didn’t run much, but I did a lot of other fun stuff.

I ran a trail marathon and got injured. I stepped in a hole and fractured my third metatarsal. It happened at mile 3 and I continued on to the finish. I was more scared of the lightning during the race than I was of damaging my foot. Apparently I don’t even have to fall down to break something.

I went to the gym and tried to workout, but I hated it. I always hate working out at the gym. I did discover, however, that I LOVE the Stairmaster. I had to stay off my foot (or wear the Ugly Boot of Shame when I didn’t), so I watched a lot of movies and knitted. Yes, I am dorky enough to knit.

I had jury duty and got picked as a juror for the first time ever. It was only for two days  was a really interesting experience. Juror badge My daughter came home for a short visit, and my son and his girlfriend have been living with us until he’s needed at his new job site in Brazil. I’ve loved having the twenty-something energy in the house.

I signed up for two road marathons two months apart (a first): Marine Corps and Route 66.

I drove to Ohio and back for my husband’s uncle’s funeral. We drove 18 hours straight through, and I will never do that again. I love road trips, but I do have my limits. And we almost hit a deer at 12:30am on a dark Ohio country road at the end of those 18 hours of driving, which was not a fun experience. I got to drive through parts of the country I’ve never seen before, like Kentucky and a part of Missouri.

I went camping and hiking in Utah. I went on another road trip with my son and his girlfriend, this time to the opposite side of the country. The desert southwest, which I find beautiful, seemed amazingly brown and drab after the lush greeness of the Ohio Valley. That all changed once we got to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. They are spectacularly amazing.

I hiked a death-defying trail (Angel’s Landing) that I was too chicken to hike twenty years earlier. It was a great feeling to face my fears and do the hike. The view from the top was worth it, but the hike up was the best part.

Angel's Landing

At the top of Angel’s Landing. Under that left foot? Nothing but air, straight down, for 1,488 feet.

I was surprised to realize that I was still pretty strong on our hikes, despite being injured. I guess we don’t lose our conditioning as quickly as we think we will, and working out on the Stair Master really did help.

I discovered there’s no way around feeling the altitude at 8,000 feet, especially if you’re from North Texas, elevation 450. Even. Walking. Meant. I. Talked. Like. This.

Eventually, I returned to running. Coming back from an injury just plain sucks. I can’t say it any other way. It just takes time.

I’ve run two full weeks now since being given the green light by the doctor and it feels great to be back. I really missed running, especially with my friends. In all honesty, it was kind of nice to take a break, to change things up a bit, especially when it involved two road trips and spending time with my son and his girlfriend hiking in Utah.

Life really is good, my friends, and there is a lot of world out there to be played in and explored. In the meantime, it’s back to the hot, steamy, Texas asphalt for me.

Running is My Drug of Choice

This week I’ve found myself several times with this thought: for some people, running is a drug.

They can’t get enough. They live, breathe, and eat running. They buy stickers for their cars, get tattoos and wear running jewelry, and buy cute little t-shirts with funny running slogans on them. Sound familiar?

You should see my car. And my t-shirt drawer. And the ten pairs of running shoes I bought on sale last year.

Some are instantly addicted from the very first run. They like the way running makes them feel. It may be the first time in their lives they’ve ever felt in control, empowered, and strong. That’s how it was for me.

For others, it comes on more slowly. After years of running they one day realize they simply can’t live without it. They run in spurts, until the day arrives when they feel like they can get through a run without feeling like they’re going to die.

Sometimes it happens after your first long race. You’ve pushed yourself further than you ever thought possible. Finishing your first half marathon or marathon is exhilarating. Even though you swear you’ll never do another one, you find yourself planning your next race within an hour after crossing the finish line.

For some, racing is the drug. These runners book a race every weekend. They don’t train; they race. Continually. I don’t know how they do it. I’m good for one or two big races a year.

marathons

This is as close as I’ll ever get to the 3:05 pace group in a marathon.

For many, their addiction to running only shows up when they’re injured. First they ignore that little twinge of pain that could signal something serious. They refuse to believe that they may need to back off and rest a day or two. I can’t be injured, I have a race in two weeks. They think they can run through it, that it will just go away. Denial is its own powerful addiction.

When they give in and go see a doctor, who then confirms what they knew all along, they become depressed when day after day passes and they can’t run. Some even feel like their identity disappears when they aren’t out running with everyone else. They need an intervention. We’ve all been there at one point or another.

Thankfully, I haven’t met many runners whose identities are that tied up in running.  Most of us accept that there needs to be balance in every aspect of our lives, and running is just another part of the pie.

The bottom line is, it feels good to run. Nothing beats a good run first thing in the morning, and those feelings carry through for the rest of the day. That’s a pretty good incentive to keep running.

For instance, the other day my friend Liz needed to run earlier than our usual winter time of 8:15am, and we met at the lake at 6:00am. It was dark and foggy, but I have to admit it was a nice change. After the run I came home and went into hyper mode, going shopping, cleaning the entire kitchen (even the fridge!), doing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, and even fitting in a session of yoga. I am a dedicated Night Owl, and somehow the combination of getting up earlier and a good six miler definitely felt like my own personal drug.

When I’m injured or sick, and don’t run for a few days, NOT running starts to become just as addictive as running. Not running is easy.  There are other things that need to be done. Not running is relaxing. I can sit on the couch and watch TV instead. Not running makes me wonder why I push myself so hard, week after week. I could walk and stay just as healthy. Not running makes me question why I put in all those hours of physical exertion. I have so much more time in my day when I don’t run.

I mean, what’s the point? We’re all going to die in the end anyway, right?

But then I hit the road and fall in love with running all over again.

It isn’t about staying alive as long as we can. It’s about living as fully as we can.

marathons

See that START banner? It’s really mile 20, where the marathon truly begins.

Running is life affirming. I run because I can, because it makes me feel strong and powerful. On some level, I find running to be very spiritual, especially trail running. When it’s just me on a trail, under a canopy of trees, or running through a gorgeous desert landscape, I feel connected to everything. There’s no separation between me and the universe, and every moment becomes meditative as I focus on nothing other than the trail ahead. It sounds hokey, I know, but it feels natural and unforced. If allows me to focus on the here and now, the immediacy of moving and breathing, and nothing else. In those moments there IS nothing else:  nowhere else I need to be, no one else I need to be,  and nothing else I need to have.

If running is a drug, so be it. It’s cheap, easy, and does the body, mind, and soul good. And that’s an addiction I can live with for the rest of my life.

And Here I Thought I Was Saving My Life

Last year, after running my sixth marathon — in Death Valley of all places — my doctor gave me a sobering look during my annual physical and asked how many more marathons I planned on running. I told him maybe a few more and he proceeded to tell me about a study he had recently read that was undertaken by a doctor and his son, both marathon runners. They loved running and wanted to study how running a marathon effected runners’ hearts.

They were surprised by their findings. Apparently, at least in the people they studied, in the days following a marathon the runners’ hearts showed just as much damage as if they had suffered a heart attack. Sobering findings indeed. Even worse, people who had run ten or more marathons showed increased blockage and calcification in their arteries. My doctor, who has known me for 22 years, quietly told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on running that many marathons.

I laughed and agreed. I had, after all, just run 26.2 miles in Death Valley! In the back of my mind, however, I was rolling my eyes and thinking there was no way running could be bad for you. Data can be manipulated.

Bold in the Cold 2012

At one of the few races I ran this year, Bold in the Cold, with my friend, Hari.

Today a friend posted a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal about two new studies on the effects of running, especially in older athletes.  The news is, once again, not very good. Here’s the part that stood out the most to me:

What the new research suggests is that the benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life. In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.

It’s that last sentence, emphasized by me, that makes me cringe. In my circle of running friends, 20 to 25 miles a week is small potatoes. Especially now that I’m training for a 50 mile race in nine weeks, and regularly hit weekly mileage of 50-60 miles, I often run 20 to 25 miles in one run.

This sentence from the article calmed me down somewhat:

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

It would take about a 7:30 minute pace to run 8 miles per hour, and I’m far from ever achieving that pace for longer than, oh, ten seconds, maybe? I’m a solid middle of the pack runner. I like an occasional good, fast tempo run, or a race where everything comes together and I surprise myself with a faster than expected pace, but I don’t train for speed. If it’s a byproduct of hills and distance, all the better, but it’s just not that important to me anymore. I guess I’m starting to mellow in my old age.

I’m all about distance. Nothing makes me happier than spending a few hours on a Saturday morning running a 20 mile route around the city with my friends. Even better, spending five or six hours on a trail, pushing just hard enough to enjoy the experience and still have enough energy to make it back to the car and the drive home, is what fills me with the deepest sense of accomplishment I’ve ever known. Nothing else in my life has ever made me feel as satisfied with myself as running.

Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

At the Palo Duro 50K Trail Run last month.

I like to think I run intuitively and listen to my body. I’m pretty good about taking rest days and not being a slave to the training plan. I don’t race half as much as others I run with, and I don’t push myself as hard either, especially on long runs.

It seems like common sense that running really hard, day in and day out, over fairly long distances, will eventually wear out your heart faster than if you did nothing but sit on the couch. Moderation is the key. Maybe speed is the culprit, and the studies don’t give us all the variables.

I have a deep down feeling that our bodies were made to run. The only thing more natural than running would be walking, something I plan on doing more of when I get much older. And I don’t intuitively feel that running long distances, at a comfortable, conversational speed, can really be the same — or worse than — doing nothing at all. Someone will need to show me the data on that to make me a believer.

For me, at this point in time, I’m in the best shape of my life. It took me 52 years to get here, and nothing beats the feeling of power and strength I’ve gained from running these past seven years. I love being able to go out for a 10 mile run on a cold autumn morning and have it feel easy. I feel energized the rest of the day, it keeps me in a great mood, and I sleep better and deeper than when I’m not running.

But, honestly, if I had to, I could be happy with 20 to 25 miles a week. If someone could prove to me that I would be able to have an extra five or ten years of running if I cut my current mileage in half, and have the same physical and psychological benefits I garner with 50 mile weeks, I could do it.

Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being healthy and staying alive, and being able to appreciate the gift of running — even if it’s “only” 25 miles per week.

Besides, we all know that anything done to excess can be bad for you, and that includes something as healthy as running. Just keep it simple, and listen to your heart.

Here’s a great rebuttal published by Runner’s World on the studies mentioned.

Badass Old Lady Points

The other day I went to my neighborhood grocery store. It’s a small store, which means I usually see the same clerks working there every time I go. It was, however, recently bought out by Sprouts, and each visit I was starting to see more and more things being rearranged and more familiar faces being replaced by new employees.

I don’t enjoy grocery shopping. I actually hate it. Having everything change in my favorite store made the experience even worse. Because of that, when I was ready to check out I purposely waited in the longer line to be checked out by a young guy I recognized. Even though he was probably one-third my age, he was always friendly and courteous.

On this particular day, as he checked me out, we discussed the incredible humidity outside. I mentioned that I had run earlier in the morning, and he said he had as well. He seemed surprised to learn that I ran. We talked about how brutal it was to run in Texas in the summer, in both high heat and humidity, and I mentioned how tough Sunday’s trail run had been for me because of the extreme heat.

This is what Sunday’s trail run felt like.

He casually asked how far I had run, checking out my last few items, and I laughed and told him 20 miles.

He stopped what he was doing and slowly looked up, searching my face as if really seeing me for the first time. Very quietly, in disbelief, he said, “You ran 20 miles?” When I nodded my head, he stared at me, broke into a huge grin, and yelled, “KUDOS! That’s AWESOME!”

As I walked away, feeling his smiling amazement and hearing him yell after me to have a great day, I had a little extra spring in my step. Despite our age difference, I suddenly felt kind of badass. I wished I’d had a Harley parked outside the store, or that I looked like Lolo Jones as I sauntered off.

Somehow, I felt like I had just made his day, when it was really me who scored all the points.

* Photo: By Worldwide Happy Media (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe I’m Only Sleepwalking

Summer is now in full force, which means getting up in the predawn hours, throwing on my running clothes, and heading out before it gets too hot. Some mornings I feel as if I’m more sleepwalking than running.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a morning person. I’ve always enjoyed staying up late, writing or reading in the quiet hours when everyone else is asleep. There’s something very peaceful to me about nighttime.

Mornings are busy. Mornings mean getting ready for work, the monotony of another schedule to follow, another shower, more time spent putting on make up and blow drying my hair. Mornings are noisy, with cars driving too fast down my street and too many voices on the radio.

Mornings are only peaceful when I’m camping, and if I’m quiet and still enough I can see a deer, or elk, or bison, depending on where I am.

This summer, though, I’ve embraced getting up at 4:30 or 5:00am and meeting someone for a run. Part of it is my stubborn commitment to the training plan. Part of it is not wanting to run alone in the evenings. Mostly, I’m enjoying the way an early morning run makes me feel, even in the city.

The mornings can be beautiful at the lake, even if they’re warm and humid. While the rest of the city rushes and swirls around me, I run along the edge of a lake and forget everything but moving.

White Rock Lake

The Sunday trail runs get me out of bed even earlier. Setting the alarm clock on Saturday night, when I’ve stayed up way too late for tomorrow’s run, I inwardly groan when I set the alarm to go off at 3:50am. No one should ever have to hear an alarm at 3:50am.

But nothing is sweeter than hitting the snooze button at 3:50am either–except maybe hitting it a second time.

Early morning trail runs come with their own set of problems. Snakes, armadillos, spider webs, tripping over roots in the dim light, and fuzzy thinking. My friend Susan and I have yet to make our way from East Dallas to the trails in Grapevine without getting lost. It doesn’t matter who’s driving or who’s navigating. We have no problem getting back home.

I blame it on a lack of sleep.

Some people love getting up early for a run just so they can nap later in the day. I wish I was one of those people. I try and try, but napping is rare for me. If I sleep, I might miss something.

This week is the first time in seven weeks of training where I’ve felt less than enthusiastic about getting up so early. An 18 miler can do that to a person.

Staying up late, not napping, and getting up early = not getting enough sleep. Even on my rest days, when I can sleep late, my internal alarm clock goes off no later than 5:00am. My internal snooze button seems to be broken.

Next week I’ll be in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, camping and then watching my daughter marry the man she met there. Even though it will probably be cool enough to run later in the day, I know I’ll still get up early to run.

And I’ll know I’m not sleepwalking because I could never dream anything as beautiful as those mountains and the cool Wyoming morning air.

Tetons

Reasons for Running

Deep thoughts appear in the predawn hours when you’re pushing up a long hill. My friend, Hari, and I had a conversation on our hill run about how our reasons for running have changed through the years. I said I wanted to keep running into old age to stay healthy.

Through the years, some of my reasons for running have changed. Some have remained the same, and others are no longer as important as they once were.

Sunglasses

Somewhat loosely in order, here is a possible progression of our reasons for running:

  • Running because we were amazed that we could. This is how it started for me. I couldn’t believe I could run, breathe, and sometimes talk at the same time. I remembered how I was always running when I was a kid, and wondered why I stopped.
  • Running because we loved it. This is what kept us coming back. After we stuck it out and finally reached the point where we didn’t feel like we were going to die during every run, we realized how much we loved it. It felt like freedom.
  • Running to get faster. Running became easier. We had a few PR’s and placed a few times in our age groups in races. We realized we could train more and get faster. We appreciated the feeling of running fast and passing others in a race.
  • Running because we couldn’t not run. We were hooked. Our runs came first over everything else on our schedules. We made running friends who became like family. We started spending more money on running clothes and shoes than our regular wardrobe. Vacation plans were made around race schedules.

Trail Shoes

  • Running to run longer and train for marathons. We listened to the stories and watched the more experienced runners. We decided we needed to run a marathon. This was serious business now. Training became our second jobs.
  • Running to prove something to ourselves. Without realizing it, running became something much deeper than merely logging the miles. Finishing our first marathons showed us we could do anything we set our hearts and minds to doing. We realized we were so much better and stronger than we ever thought possible. We learned to believe in ourselves.
  • Running to prove something to others. Not everyone believed in us. A lot of people thought we were crazy. The ghosts from the past laughed in our ear. We ran to prove them wrong and to still the voices once and for all.
  • Running so we could eat what we wanted. Bread, pasta, desserts, and beer. We could eat it all and not gain weight. Eventually we realized it would all catch up with us, and it did. It took awhile, but we became more conscious of eating healthier.

Water Bottles

Currently, these are the most prominent reasons I continue to run:

  • Running because we know it’s what our bodies were made to do. On a very deep level, we know our bodies were made to run. Especially when we run trails, we tap into something ancient and primal. This is living.
  • Running to stay healthy as we get older. Running by itself is no longer enough. We add yoga and strength training to our routines to stay flexible and strong enough for the trails. Recovery takes longer. But we look around at others our age and realize they look and move as if they are much older.
  • Running because it teaches us things about ourselves. Bad runs are the best teachers. Nothing has taught me more about myself, my limits, or my possibilities than running, especially when I have to dig deep, or when I fail to reach a goal.
  • Running because it’s what we do. Not running feels like we’re not being true to ourselves. There’s nothing on TV that could ever take the place of a good run. Unimportant things and concerns are brushed aside. Running is more important. It sustains us.
  • Running because it’s who we are. We have other roles, other friends, other lives, but first and foremost, we are runners. It’s how we define ourselves.

Why do you run?

Running and Writing: A Powerful Combo

This morning I made a comment on one of my favorite running blogs, iRuniBreathe. She wrote a great post on satisfaction that addresses what motivates us to run and write. Check it out for a great read.

Why do I run?

I run because it feels like freedom. It’s the one thing I can do where I can let my mind run free and my body just has to follow. Or I can focus on my pace, or my breathing, or the trail, and let my mind rest in that simplicity. Running feels like I’m letting my body do what it’s supposed to do.

Writing is much harder work. How much do I want to open myself up to scrutiny? How far down do I let the walls go? How much of my true heart do I show to the world? Running is much easier. It’s all me out there, open and without walls, doing what comes naturally.

It took me many years before I became a runner, but that’s not absolutely true. I spent every moment I could outside when I was a kid, and was always riding my bike, playing chase, or pretending to be in the Olympics. I ran all the time, and it came naturally.

But it took me more than twenty years to know I was a runner.

Race

Writing started out as a way to tell stories, then became my salvation through a troubled childhood. Writing was always easier than talking out loud. My journal was the friend I couldn’t talk to, the one who would understand whatever I needed to say. Through the years, writing has led me to myself.

Running is the same. On a good run, there’s no agenda, no judgment. I don’t have to worry about how much or how little I show to the world. I’m just a runner. I run.

I try to give my best effort when I step onto the pavement or the trail, and every day’s best effort is different. Some days I’m kind to myself, some days I’m deeply frustrated. None of it matters.

There’s always another day, another mile, another run.

I Got Mugged, or True Confessions of a Running Shoe Hoarder

Well, I didn’t really get mugged, but it was awfully warm and muggy outside for my runs this week. And my wallet did kind of get mugged because I just dished out a lot of money for some new running shoes.

After being so sore from Sunday’s 10.5 miler I had to take an extra rest day on Tuesday. I ran in the morning on Wednesday when it was still fairly cool (75 degrees) and slightly overcast but, man, was it humid. On Thursday I thought I’d mix things up and run in the evening. It was just as gross. I guess I forgot that I live in north Texas.

One thing that did make the runs extra special fun is that I got to wear a brand new pair of shoes. They’re the same brand I’ve worn for the past two years (Nike Free), but are an older version (3.0). I was ecstatic when I found them on sale online.

I had just about given up on finding any of the old versions, and was starting to get desperate since I definitely do not like the new Free Run. Too much arch, too thick of a sole, and wider than the previous versions, especially in the toe box.

I hate changes like that, when someone feels the need to change something that doesn’t need to be fixed. I have a narrow foot and have always struggled with finding shoes that fit right, especially in the heel. The Frees fit me perfectly. Also, I love how they are seamless. And so light.

So  I did some online research and discovered that Nike does still offer the 5.0 version, but only in the ID version. Which means you get to customize them, choosing your colors and laces, and even having your name or logo printed on the tongue. Of course you pay for it, and what once used to be an expensive $90 for a pair of cheaply made minimal shoes now costs $130 for the same product.

No thanks.

At first I resorted to digging out an old pair from two years ago that probably have more than 600 miles on them and had been relegated to the back of my closet. Then I found the older version online. Extra bonus: they accepted my running group’s 15% discount.

And I did celebrate my birthday two weeks ago, so I felt justified in making a small purchase.

I channeled Imelda Marcos (though I’m pretty sure Nike’s weren’t her style) and bought four pairs. Then a few days later I saw the pink version was on sale for even cheaper, so I ordered four more pairs.

I just bought EIGHT PAIRS of running shoes!

Okay, so I may have some latent hoarding tendencies. I admit that I don’t like running out of something, like shampoo, or soap, or running shoes (apparently). I always have a backup. And I’m very organized. I was a teacher!

Anyway, it’s not hoarding, it’s stocking up for the running shoe apocalypse. It’s gonna happen.

This is proof positive that I need help. But at least I’ll always have running shoes that fit.

I’m not sure how many years I can stretch out these last eight pairs of Nike Free 3.0’s, and how I’ll cope when that final pair bites the asphalt, but I’ve got awhile before I have to deal with it.

Real Runners vs Frauds: How We Judge Each Other

Not long ago I wrote about my surprise at how some of the nonrunning public view runners and marathons. Sometimes I think the running community may actually be even worse towards each other. This could be similar to the pregnant hamster I unknowingly purchased for my prekindergarten class one year who ate her babies shortly after the miracle of birth while we all watched in horror. Yeah, something like that.

I just finished reading a book that had nothing to do with running, except that the main character loves to run. I don’t know if the author of the book is a runner, but this is the way the main character describes how she could tell her son’s coach was a real runner:

He was wearing an Orlando Magic T-shirt and baggy running shorts. You can tell a lot by someone’s running clothes. If the colors are bright, the fit fine, the logos designer, it almost always means fraud, someone who likes the idea of running better than the act itself. Mike Riordan’s shorts and shirt looked ancient, one step removed from the rummage sale. The real deal.

Huh? I think she has it backwards. I consider myself and my friends to be “the real deal” as far as running goes, and not one of us would be caught dead running in a t-shirt, especially down here in Texas (and for the record, the story takes place in Florida, and the heat and humidity are mentioned often). Nothing identifies a new runner more than running in a t-shirt. I don’t think any of us feel like “frauds” for wearing Nike and Asics either, if that’s what she considers “designer logos” running apparel. Maybe Christian Dior makes running clothes that I don’t know about?

I am guilty as charged, though, for sometimes liking “the idea of running better than the act itself,” especially at mile 25 of a marathon. I’m dumb enough to keep coming back for more, however.

These are my designer running clothes. Obviously I'm a huge fraud.

This little paragraph makes me think the author probably does run a few miles here and there, and lives in a cold climate where she doesn’t have to worry about sweaty wet cotton weighing her down, but it makes me wonder why she chose to make runners who wear ancient t-shirts better than the 99% of us who don’t. Is she part of the 1% of running? This got me to thinking about how runners judge each other.

We all do it, all the time. When I ran my first Turkey Trot years ago, shortly after I started running, I ran the 5K portion with some friends. For someone who wanted to race, it was a nightmare. There were walkers, shufflers, strollers, dogs, small children, grandparents, and entire families stretched shoulder to shoulder across the width of the street.

Running was like a game of Frogger. I was not happy. I judged.

The next year I ran the eight mile race, which was slightly better, but of course I was missing the point. With 26,500 registered runners, we have the largest Thanksgiving Day race in the country. Everyone has a right to be there, no matter how slow or how many people, animals, or contraptions they decide to run with. To expect to be able to race, and for everyone to get out of my way, was insane. I was acting like a true Dallasite, and I wasn’t even behind the wheel of my car.

The larger point overall: as runners, everyone has a right to be there.

Through my years of running, I’ve heard–and made–a lot of comments about other runners. It’s always amused me to hear the ways we slam each other. I remember being a new runner listening to some faster, more experienced runners complain about Team in Training and how they clogged up the running path at the lake on Saturday mornings. They said some pretty mean things about TNT, the most ridiculous being they weren’t real runners, and from then on I decided to go out of my way to be nice to them. To me there is nothing more real than getting off the couch and running your first marathon for someone who can’t.

The most egregious example of Runner Judgment happened last month in the middle of a half marathon. Two female friends were running together, chatting about a marathon they had run in the past, and they were chastised by an older female runner. She chided them about their “slow” finish times,” and made a comment about how they should be ashamed of themselves, how she was was running 3:20’s when she was their age. As I said, this was right in the middle of running a half marathon race. My two friends were much classier than this lady and showed great restraint in not tackling her into the ditch.

Sometimes I think we don’t know how we really come across to other runners. Some people seem to need to put others down to make themselves look better. Others are just plain rude. Sometimes we’re trying to be funny but it doesn’t always come across that way. And sometimes it’s our own insecurities that make us say dumb things about other runners.

Most of us have been guilty of calling those who run less fast than us the “slow” runners. I used to run in a somewhat fast group, then I switched groups and found myself suddenly in the back of the pack. I was now one of the “slow” runners, a blackbird and no longer a bluebird among runners. The label didn’t bother me, but my own competitive drive sometimes frustrated me because I wasn’t used to being in the back. And I do always hate being the last one to breakfast.

From trail runners snubbing street runners, to those of us saying “only” a half marathon, to those of us thinking you haven’t really run a marathon if you walk any portion of it, to runners thinking you shouldn’t hold conversations during a race, to those who run with music as opposed to those who think you shouldn’t, to ultramarathoners reminding us how far they run for fun, there will always be an us versus them. We see it in sports, politics, religions, races, sexes, schools, jobs, and families. Running is no different.

So the question begs to be asked: What is a real runner? Is it someone who runs in old t-shirts, or someone who wears purple with the picture of someone battling cancer? Is it someone who qualifies for Boston every time they run a marathon, or someone who trains sporadically and barely crosses the finish line under five hours? In my opinion, it’s merely semantics and keeps us separated from the rest of the pack.

If you run, no matter how fast, how slow, how often, how seriously, or what surface you choose to run on, it’s real, all of it. When you run, you are a real runner. There are no frauds.

(The running quote is from the book Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen)

Runners, Don’t Read the Comments!

Last month I got upset. Several times, in fact. The reason: reading the comments sections of online articles.

Ever since I quit teaching I’ve had a lot more time to spend on the computer. In the past, I rarely had time to read articles, blogs, or much of anything. Now that I do have more time, especially since I now have the  iPad, I’ve been pretty shocked at reading the comments sections of just about anything I read.

I had no idea there were so many mean people out there.

Everyone has explained to me that some people go out of their way to write offensive comments just to stir things up. I now go out of my way not to read the comments section of anything political. Scary stuff, indeed, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. Both sides are equally represented by some serious wackos. But sometimes it hits a little close to home and I can’t help myself. It upsets me.

I guess it’s like when people get behind the wheel of their car, and the anonymity and protection of all that steel makes them act, shall we say, not always considerate of other drivers.

But here’s where it really hit home for me. Last month I read two blogs, both of them ragging on runners and marathons. The first one was by someone who writes for a local, free, weekly magazine. He essentially makes his living pissing people off. He’s pugnacious, and goes out of his way to annoy. That’s what you expect from the guy. I rarely read anything he writes, even if I agree with his position, because I don’t like his style. I only read this article because someone shared it on Facebook, and it was just another one of his rants, this time against the city’s largest marathon and what he repeatedly called “positive runners.”

I guess deriding someone for being positive makes sense if negativity is your norm. And he obviously hasn’t run with me in the summer when it’s 105 degrees outside. I’m anything but positive. Just ask my friends.

What really got me going, however, was the degree of animosity from the people commenting, and not towards him, but towards runners and the marathon.

I had no idea.

I can understand being upset at road closures. Before I started running I forgot about the marathon one year and got stuck in traffic. I was irritated at the inconvenience, but mostly at myself for forgetting about the race. But these people commenting didn’t hold back, saying runners felt a “sense of entitlement” and calling the people who cheer them on “assholes.” When someone brought up the point that charities benefit tremendously from races, the consensus was that runners should just send in a check instead–which is kind of missing the point. The overriding sentiment seemed to be: not on my street, not in my city, and quit showing off.

The other incident that got to me was a blog post entitled “Running a Marathon Does Not Make You Mother Teresa.” It was supposed to be a humorous look at so-called self-involved runners. Again, it wasn’t the post that bothered me, it was the comments. Everyone seemed ready to jump on the Bash Runners Bandwagon. Quite a few people made comments about how runners were looking for attention by running marathons. Believe me, I can think of much easier ways to get attention than training for 20 weeks through the hottest summer on record just to put myself through hell for a 26.2 mile race. One commenter on another blog that linked to the article, a trail runner, made snarky comments about people running street races just for the attention it gets them, implying she was better than them because she ran on dirt. Even our own are turning against us!

People also made a lot of comments about those goofy 26.2 stickers people put on their cars after they run their first marathon. (Yes, I have one. Could this be the adult equivalent of the stickers we got in grade school for good work? I did love those shiny gold stars I got for getting 100’s on my spelling tests . . .)

I had no idea that pounding the asphalt ticked off so many people. I didn’t think anyone else really noticed.

Once I ran into a substitute teacher from my school when I went to pick up my race packet for our local Turkey Trot. She was one of the volunteers giving out race t-shirts. When I saw her again a few weeks after that, and asked if she ran, she went on a rant about runners always running down her street, and how she can’t get out of her driveway on Saturday mornings because there are so many of them. I had to really think about that. I’m guessing she has to wait 30 seconds tops to let a large group of runners pass her driveway.

What is this really about? I pondered this all last month, trying to figure out what people had against runners. Finally, I realized, like always, I needed to lighten up. It wasn’t really about me, or runners, or any type of inconvenience.

It’s about anyone who is different from us.

People like to gripe. We all do it. Guilty as charged. How many times have I made disparaging remarks about people who take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store? How many times have I cursed the cyclists who don’t let me know they’re passing on my left when I run at the lake? How many times have we all looked down on someone for doing something we think is stupid?

Maybe the runners I know, myself included, talk about running too much, especially to people who aren’t really interested. Maybe we talk about our races, our training, our nutrition, and it irritates other people. Maybe we tell people who don’t run what they’re missing out on, how running will change their lives, even when they don’t want to hear it. Maybe we put those 26.2 stickers on our back windows as a beacon to other runners, a sign of kinship as we drive around doing nonrunning things. Maybe we’re positive because running makes us feel good. Maybe we just really like running, and forget that not everyone is as interested as we are.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, and it’s not personal if someone writes mean things about what we do for fun. It’s only running. It’s not going to stop us, though, and that’s the bottom line. The human body was made to run. One day a lot of those people complaining about the marathon that inconveniences them so much now may decide they need to make a change in their lives. They may decide to push themselves mentally and physically beyond any limit they’ve ever known. When they do, my running friends and I will be there to encourage them and push them and cheer them on, no questions asked.

I’ll still read articles online, and I’m sure I’ll still get irritated at the rude comments. Oh well. At least I can always go for a run afterwards to cool off. Or to get attention.