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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.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/26/2010 20:26

    likewise my opinion on the ipod, changed dramatically recently! now the shuffle is my best friend, ever. you are absolutely right, no point being judgmental! thankfully, i guess my pace is hardly good enough to really put down anyone else. even inside my own messed-up middle-aged head.

    • 10/29/2010 11:57

      My pace is hardly good enough for that either. And that’s what I finally realized. If we aren’t olympian elites (or trying to become one), we’re all just “hobby runners” out there chasing our own personal goals. No shame in that at all, no matter the speed.

  2. 10/27/2010 02:20

    Great post! I used to get caught up in the comparison game. Then I got sick and couldn’t run (or bike or swim or anything) for over a year. Those first runs were ridiculously hard for me and made me super humble.

    I judge shoes since I work in a running store. If they’re wearing Skechers, they’re not going far. (But, so what?)

  3. 10/27/2010 02:23

    Honestly, I think other runners are annoying. LOL.

    We are really into ourselves…

  4. 10/27/2010 04:00

    i love this post. describes me to a T. but i figure that as long as i don’t get obsessive about comparing myself then i’m okay. i always like to see where i’m stacked up and, if i’m feeling like a big enough person, what i can learn from other runners hahah!

  5. 10/27/2010 04:58

    Guilty! I try not to be judgmental, per se, but I totally size up other runners that I see out and about. And if someone tries to, like, pass me? Oh hell no.

    There are certain things that I openly judge and feel no guilt over, though. Like people wearing fuel belts to their 5K race. Or talking about how they went for a run on the elliptical. Der.

  6. 10/27/2010 05:50

    I’m mostly happy to see other runners, whether I am or not at the time. I’m one of those goofy people who will smile at a runner when I see them (probably leaving them to wonder, “what the hell is she smiling at me for?”)

    It’s the swimmers at the pool that I get judgmental about. I won’t go into details because really, it’s too silly, but I would love it if there were a lane for “medium/slow swimmers who nonetheless intend to keep churning out laps and NOT stop at each end, and NOT swim on their back in the middle of the section and NOT then try to keep you from passing even though they’re just going to stop at the end of the lane thus forcing you to do some kind of weird shuffle-swim around them when you could have just easily passed them a moment ago and avoided this whole nonsense.”

    • 10/29/2010 12:00

      I’m actually very smiley and wavey while running, and have always been… even back in my judgment days. I love seeing other runners out there too. In fact, I love it even more now that I’ve grown out of the need to instantly size myself up against any running rando I pass.

      I had a big LOL at your swim lane! They should definitely have signs at pools for that stuff. I mean, most outdoor tracks have signs to remind people which lanes walkers and runners should be in, right?

  7. 10/27/2010 07:27

    I’m not too much of a runner-judger, but that is probably because I’m closer to the awkwardly shuffling along type of runner than the “real” runner.

    Most of my judging takes place on the ski slope. “Pssht, that girl over there, in the matching argyle Burton snow suit with the fancy new board? She probably can’t even stand up on it. Taking one run down the bunny slope then off to the bar in the lodge, huh? Yeah, I thought so.”

    Mean. None of my business. She’s probably laughing right back at me for risking to smash my face while attempting some not so impressive rail slide.

    Sign me up for some humble pie.

    • 10/29/2010 12:02

      Bahahaha, oh my gosh. I am that girl. Actually, not even. I can hardly downhill ski, so I’m sure snowboarding would lead to my complete and utter destruction! Extra marshmallows in my hot chocolate, please!

  8. 10/27/2010 08:18

    Oh man, gimme some of that humble pie. Guilty as charged. My biggest offense? Sizing up runners by what they’re wearing. Spandex tights and long sleeves on a 60 degree day? Judgement. Long hair and no ponytail? Judgement. Fuel belt for a run under 15 miles? Judgement.

    That being said, when newbie runners talk about their first mile run, 5 mile run, 5k race, etc – I get really excited for them!

    As long as they’re not faster than me 😉

  9. 10/27/2010 11:45

    I used to be all up on this situation but I am laid-back now. There’s no point in comparing yourself to others – there will always be someone faster, or logging more miles, etc. Granted, I do get a little comparison bug at races but I usually beat all the skinny chicks in their coordinating outfits so I feel better about myself 🙂 (as far as race results though – I don’t compare there anymore, just with myself)

  10. 10/27/2010 17:55

    Such a good post! I laughed at “Mother Theresa of distance running.” I am so guilty…to the point that I practically think I own the sport. Haha. Also, after 14 years of running I JUST started to allow myself to take an ipod but ONLY SOMETIMES. And then I totally think other runners are judging me.

  11. 10/28/2010 05:02

    dayyyumm I hope I never run across your path! 🙂 hehe, jk! have you been a runner for a long time? I’m still kind of a newbie to this lovely sport, so I don’t feel the desire to compare or judge (not saying your judging!) I’m that ridiculous runner out there with a big smile on her face ‘head nodding’ at other happy runners…I’m thankful for every minute I get to spend running and have never really thought to compare myself to other runners while out on a training run. However I will turn into a psycho RACER…during a race it’s definitely ON, and I will charge past as many other racers as I can! 🙂
    I hope you are having a great week!

    • 10/29/2010 12:07

      Oops, I didn’t mean to imply I’m some kind of mega-jerk-terminator when I run… I’m big with the hello’s and head nods too. Good for you for not getting caught up in the comparison game and just being thankful to be out there. I’m getting to that point too as I get older… the ripe old age of 23… haha

  12. 10/28/2010 05:55

    Yup, I think I’m guilty as well. Thanks for this post; it contains elements of a comment you left for me when I was beating myself up over a run, and I really appreciate that comment. So this post is awesome!!

  13. 10/30/2010 03:25

    haha…you’re hilarious. okay not to sound like a bad person, but i guess my judgment gets switched on when i see other gym goers who’ve obviously did-their-hair/put-on-makeup/wear-JEWLERY, i guess i wonder if they’re there to workout or get lucky. the gym is a serious arena, damn it!

  14. 10/31/2010 07:44

    I judge everyone. And I’m probably better at it than you.

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