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home > community > viewpoint > can't we all just get along?

Can't We All Just Get Along?
Can't we all just get along? That seems to be the question posed by Martin Loring in his recent post to the Cool Running Forum. Loring asks " Who thinks that there are two classes of athletes, the 'members' (serious runners) and the 'non-members' ? According to the responses to his post, there are more than a few runners out there who feel that is most definitely the case. Is it really that way? Is running really an elitist sport? If so, does it have to be that way?

Can't We All Just Get Along?

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By Don Allison
Posted Friday, 19 September, 1997

Can't we all just get along? That seems to be the question posed by Martin Loring in his recent post to the Cool Running Forum. Loring asks " Who thinks that there are two classes of athletes, the 'members' (serious runners) and the 'non-members' ? According to the responses to his post, there are more than a few runners out there who feel that is most definitely the case. Is it really that way? Is running really an elitist sport? If so, does it have to be that way?

As long distance runners, we quickly learn to work within our abilities. Surely someone who runs a 3:30 marathon can train and devote themselves to the sport in order to become a 3:10 or a 3:05 marathoner, but it is impractical for most of us to do this, at least for any long period of time. The dedication required is far to much of a drain on our everyday lives. Work, family, and other commitments are not usually compatible with huge mileage weeks. Thus we tend to run within the limits of our genetic abilities. One of the most perceptive comments about the physiology of running is that "there is little you can do to change your VO2 max" (ability to use oxygen). This means that no matter how dedicated you are, you will never beat able to win the Olympic 10 km. Many of us will never even be able to win an age group prize. Does this make us any more or less of a runner? Hardly. It appears that some people in the sport feel that way, however

To survive in the sport, and to feel good about our running achievements, we must come to grips with our God-given abilities. A race can only have one winner. Well, only one runner can cross the finish line first. Sex, age groups, Clydesdales, and other categories create many more opportunities for prizes, but the bottom line is that a race is a race and some will run relatively fast, while others will run relatively slowly. But there is no reason whatsoever that we can't all talk to each other congenially before and after the race. There is also no reason why we cannot all work together to make running a better sport.

Friendships normally develop between those with similar interests. Thus, those who run for the same club and even those who run a similar pace, often become friendly. Among my own running acquaintances, I have naturally gotten to know best those whom I most often run with. If you are a male runner looking to get to know female runners, you probably have a better chance as a four hour marathoner than as a 2 1/2 hour marathoner.

What about running clubs? This is the crux of the issue regarding Martin's post to the forum. One of the most difficult things to do is to show up at a running club for the first time. Those of us who have run in a club for a time have likely forgotten how difficult taking this first step this can be. I turned up for a few bikes rides with a local cycling club this summer and learned that it can take while to become comfortable with a new group of people. Many newcomers often feel "unaccepted," especially if they are not among the "elite" in the group. Those who persevere and stick with it usually find that most all running clubs are comprised of pretty friendly people. Eventually you will get to know the members of the club better; when this happens your shared experiences will take on a greater meaning, and friendships will develop.

I truly believe however, that there are far too many running clubs that cater to "elite" runners and not enough that are organized for those who simply want to go for a run after work. In my opinion, running clubs, at least those in New England, spend too many resources recruiting and pursuing the same few hundred runners who have the ability to place in a championship race. The large majority of casual runners will never win a prize, but have a lot to offer the sport. Some of the most selfless, hard-working, behind the scenes people I have ever met are runners who have never won a thing. While these folks do become an integral part of a running organization, there are ten times as many who do not ever even join a running club. They simply run on their own. If they are motivated to test themselves in a race, it will likely be either a low-key run in their hometown or a mega-race such as the Corporate Challenge. Unless they finish very near the front, which we know is statistically impossible for the majority, the chances of them ending up with a club are strictly hit or miss. They may read about a club in the paper or be referred by a friend. Not that he is listening to me, but my biggest piece of advice to new USATF boss Craig Masback would be to reach out to the huge number of casual runners and invite them to become more involved. The first step in that process is to join a running club.

As their head of a very much non-elite local running club, I know just how difficult it can be to make new members feel comfortable enough to return on a regular basis. Despite our best efforts, some still feel like outsiders, not privy to the goings on within the group. Given this tenuous nature of things, there is very little room for the snobbery and elitism that Loring mentions.

In a reply to Loring, Andrew White suggests we look at Bill Rodgers, Johnny Kelley, and Craig Virgin as examples of elite athletes without a trace of arrogance. Rodgers in particular has the rare ability to joke around before a race, then turn on the competitive fire as soon as the starting gun sounds. Other runners thrive on bringing an "attitude" with them to the starting line. Any coach will tell you that to win a race, a runner must believe he is a faster runner than anyone else in the field. In the defense of elite runners, the snobbery that Loring sees may just be the methodology some runners use to get mentally prepared for a race. Lynn Jennings and Alberto Salazar in his prime are two examples of this. As a journalist, I have known both to be very engaging and friendly. If I had tried to talk with either right before a race however, I am sure they would have ignored me. Much like in other areas of life, there are all kinds of personalities in running, even among very fast runners. It's always dangerous to stereotype a group of individuals.

Running can be and often is a very humbling sport. Once a race starts, you are out there on your own. One of the truths of competitive running is that no matter how fast you are, there is always someone faster. As fast as these club hot shots may be, put them in a national championship, and they are nothing more than middle-of-the-pack. Any local runner who truly believes he or she is really "better" than the other participants is living in a delusional dream world.

We all try to do the best we can, but in the end it sharing our training and racing experiences with others that will stick with us, and will keep us coming back for more challenges. Stratification of participants into the "haves" and the "have-nots" is a losing proposition. As Eddie Liebefried stated so well in his reply, there is much good that running clubs do; they are a key cog in the wheel that makes the sport of running go 'round. Even if some individuals that comprise the membership of running clubs get carried away on occasion, exploring the possibility of joining a local running club is something all runners should try.

To Mr. Loring I would say don't be so quick to judge by outward appearances. Take the time to get to know the "Joe Cools" and you just might find a real human being behind the Oakley eyeshades and confident veneer. To those of you who are lucky enough to possess the talent to finish at the front of races or score points for your team in a championship, I would say be very thankful for what you've got and take the time to be friendly to all of the runners who greet you at a race. Often a simple wave and "hello" will suffice, instead of a death glare. For without runners of all shapes and sizes, both fast and slow, there would be no sport of road running as we know it. This is not professional baseball or football; we are all in it together. The sooner more of us begin to acknowledge that fact and start acting that way, the better off the sport will be.



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