There exist in large organizations, whether in business, government or the local Little League, a phenomenon where a small cadre of enthusiasts attempt to impose their influence and take control. As the years rolled by and I entered more and more races, I discovered the running community is no exception. Though only a small fraternity of the broader running population, this group came to promote the primal activity of running as a sport so complex it intimidates many beginners and outsiders. I read books and magazine articles that describe the process of running as if it were an instruction manual on how to split an atom. It is so maddening there have been times I had to keep from screaming, “Stop it already; it’s only running!”
Snobbishness is an organizational dynamic that I’ve found in most communities of common interest. There are wine snobs who look down upon patrons who order a house Merlot at the bar, cycle snobs who sneer when they pass a commuter on a bike that is not manufactured from advanced composites, golf snobs who get orgasmic when they pull out their five-hundred-dollar driver, and intellectual snobs who get excited whenever they get a chance to flaunt their Ivy League graduation rings in public—so why should running be any different?
Marketers created an image of a stereotypical runner, this lean individual decked out in a two-hundred-dollar synthetic moisture-wicking outfit, wearing a heart monitor and watch that calculates every conceivable split. I’ve encountered this type of runner along the trail my entire life and have become so adept I can spot one from one hundred yards with 99% accuracy. It is amusing to watch as they preoccupy themselves checking their monitors, adjusting their gear, or glancing in another direction to avoid eye contact, rather than exchange a friendly nod as common folk tend to do.
I’ve become immune to their indifference. I ran my Boston and placed in my age group in marathons and half-marathons, nevertheless, in my view anyone who completes a 5K or a half-marathon deserves to be called a runner, and anyone who conquers a 26.2-mile race has earned the right to be called a marathoner.
It never fails, though. Just as I’m about to lose hope, a runner decked out in a crisp, moisture-wicking running outfit will run up alongside me and strike up a conversation, reminding me not to stereotype others. These are the times I remember encounters I’ve had over the years with humble former Olympians, a renowned college track coach and international world-class runners with similar sentiments as my own.
It seems to me the sport would be better-served if the elite embraced average and beginner runners, just as professional athletes mingle with their fans. Spoken and unspoken gestures of acceptance would leave a lasting impression and attract even casual observers to the sport, but such nurturing behavior is lacking in some corners of the running community. It is apparent to me that many average recreational runners are so blinded by the snobbery of a few that it is difficult for them to develop an appreciation for the remarkable achievements of elite runners who stride at a cheetah-like pace.
For anyone thinking that I am the epitome of the anti-runner, nothing is further from the truth. I’ve had the heart and soul of an endurance runner for more than forty years, I just belong to a different group of runners. My running brethren is composed of recreational athletes who run for sheer enjoyment, unfettered by fads, trends and silly regulations. My fellow-runners can be found on city streets, in county parks, local tracks or mountain trails garbed in an array of athletic shoes and clothing. They make up the overwhelming majority of runners who train and enter distance races across the country and around the world.
The proliferation of races that routinely swell to more than 10,000 runners is possible only because the majority of entrants are recreational runners and weekend warriors, not because there are 10,000 elitists. Recreational runners are the economic engine that finances the multi-billion dollar running industry. Without recreational runners, the number of businesses that produce apparel, energy drinks, books, magazines and nutritional foods would dwindle and race entries would plummet. Without us, a flourishing running industry would stagnate. I am proud to be a member of our club.