In defense of other runners.
You encounter them, time and again. Other runners.
You see them while you’re out running.
You see them while you’re not out running.
You overhear them talking about their training plans and PRs.
You read tidbits of their running stories on blogs.
And, having encountered these other runners, you’ve surely had — at some point in time — a snotty moment.
A childish impulse, a ferocious need to correct and squash this other runner‘s possible assumption that he or she is more of a badass than you.
Or maybe it’s just me. See, I used to harbor a slight inferiority complex whenever I’d encounter other runners:
- Other runner thinks she’s going to run faster than me? No, no she isn’t. Guess what, lady, I will sacrifice my recovery run to pass you if it means you’ll learn your proper place in the world.
- Other runner still wants to run faster, even after I’ve attempted to exert my dominance? Fine, I rationalize with myself, Go ahead and run faster than me. I’m probably running four times as many miles as you, anyway.
- Other runner thinks he’s going to trot by me at 5pm with a smug grin on his face, one that screams, “Look at me! I’m running! I pity you for not being out running right now like me. I’m better than you! ” No, no you’re not, I want to yell at his retreating back: I’m better than you! Because I already got my run in at 5am! Jerk!
- Other runner I’ve never seen before gives me a knowing “we’re in this together” nod as we trot by each other on some brilliant sunny day? Don’t give me that nod, homegirl. Where were you on all the rotten rainy days that I managed to drag my butt out of bed while you shivered by the window and sipped tea?
I’ll own this: I used to get immediately defensive whenever I encountered other runners. When I ran by, heard about, or read about other runners, I would inwardly compare myself and then justify my paces, my mileage, my PRs, and my approach. I made juvenile snap judgments about their seriousness based on age, attire, gait and form, and things as petty as whether they ran with iPods. (Three guesses who you’ll find toting an iPod along with her a few times a week these days?)
I’ve grown out of this childish compulsion to judge and compare, but it still resurfaces occasionally.
And I don’t like that.
Because if I’m making scoffing judgments and assumptions about somebody else’s running — even if I’m keeping them to myself — I’m just wasting my own time.
So what if I’m faster or slower than somebody else? So what if I run more miles or not as many? So what if we hold court on different ends of the spectrum of running seriousness?
Here’s the basic, obvious fact I’m finally realizing:
None of that garbage matters.
Perhaps you, like me, are not the Mother Theresa of distance running. Perhaps you participate in secret smack-talk and make internal sweeping judgments about other runners. Perhaps you trot easily by someone and immediately feel a primordial need to pat yourself on the back because you can run faster or farther than him, which must therefore make your running more meaningful.
If this describes you, maybe it’s time to join me at the table for a slice of humble pie. If we’re not elite Olympians breaking the tape, we’ve got no room to brag (inwardly or outwardly) about how much more important our running is than anybody else’s.
Take a look at any jolly jogger trotting down the street – whether he’s decked out in high-tech gadgets and slick performance gear or a raggedy cotton t-shirt with old gym shorts and tube socks. Whether he runs with the fluid cadence of an elite or the jagged steps of someone who has only ever had to run for punishment. Whether he’s the first person across the finish line or the last, or any soul in between. Each one is fighting his own private battle. Everybody out there has a story. Everybody out there has a reason.
Running is rarely just running. Sometimes it’s an escape. Sometimes it’s a chore. Maybe it’s a passion. Maybe it’s an obligation. Maybe it’s a habit, a novelty, a challenge, a distraction, or a means to an end.
I wouldn’t presume to know exactly what running means to any random person trotting down the road, but what I do know is that my infantile inner dialogue of smack-talk and comparisons doesn’t do a single thing to improve my running or racing ability. Well. Unless it inspires me to get a little speedwork in.
Okay, fine. Let’s be honest: I will probably never completely stop comparing myself to other runners, and I will probably never completely nix the judgments. But it doesn’t hurt to try and cut down, right?
Do you ever get caught up in the comparison game?
What habits of other runners flip your judgment into high gear? For example: Several years ago, I assumed that iPods were a dead giveaway for slackers who didn’t have the mental fortitude to hoof it on their own. Eventually, I realized this notion is ridiculous.