Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

It’s not about the sticker…but if it was, so what?”

Many within the running community are all a flutter over a recent op-ed piece by Chad Stafko in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He leveled some fairly hefty criticism of runners. More specifically, he begins his discussion by questioning the rationale for displaying 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and stating that their sole purpose is to draw attention to the person displaying it. He goes on to offer additional critiques, seemingly positioning most runners as attention-seeking individuals eager to make sure the world knows just how hard they work. I’ve spent some time thinking about his claims, trying to be as objective as possible, and would like to offer my thoughts. You may agree, and you may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

First, a few initial reactions:

–       When you are out driving, and you spot me running, you don’t know if I’ve been running for 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 miles, or 50 miles. More to the point, there are far easier ways to draw attention to myself than to run 50 miles.

–       You may judge my body in it’s current state, but you don’t know my history, and haven’t lived my life. It’s human nature to make snap judgments based on our initial encounters with individuals. That doesn’t mean we need to extrapolate out a life history from that appearance and context.

–       We post “family” stickers and don’t question them- why are you flaunting your reproduction and (typically) heteronormativity?

At least have some fun with it, right?

At least have some fun with it, right?

–       We post religious icon stickers- why are you flaunting your God and/or beliefs?

How often do we see this symbol when we are stuck in traffic?

How often do we see this symbol when we are stuck in traffic?

–       We add alma mater license plate covers- why are you flaunting your education?

–       We add sports team decals and license plate covers- why don’t you behave like a “normal” fan and scream at the TV like everyone else?

–       This is possibly the most expensive “t-shirt” I own…don’t critique my race shirt and I won’t  critique your Armani Exchange shirt or sunglasses.

I don’t know if you are a runner or not, whether you have family members that run, and I don’t even know what you look like, whether or not you have body image issues, or if you have ever suffered from depression or addiction. However, you’ve no doubt gone through something significant in your life and found yourself looking for support, and searching for a coping mechanism. Is it so hard to fathom that perhaps some runners don’t actually care what others think?

It's only fair, right?

It’s only fair, right?

We are indeed an individualistic society, and we have encouraged our most recent generation to expect instant praise and gratification for simply participating. There are blue ribbons for everyone, and no keeping score! This sense of individualism isn’t limited to running and athletics though. This individualism is directly linked to many other facets of our society. Heck, it’s the reason writers like yourself have jobs in the first place. You have the luxury of offering your opinion and sharing with on a global scale with others.

We may also be a culture obsessed with quick fixes. We want our education system to turn around in a year or we scrap the policy and elect someone else. We want the perfect job immediately after graduating from college. We EXPECT to go to college instead of viewing it as a privilege and an opportunity that many won’t get. Clearly, there are some entitlement issues in our society that need to be worked out. Perhaps a nice solitary run could help? Maybe we might all do some of our best thinking when we lace up a pair of shoes. It seems to work for presidents, heads of state, social justice leaders, prominent educators, outspoken activists, and countless everyday heroes we know nothing about. The last time I checked, Air Force One has never flaunted a 26.2 sticker, but perhaps those pictures were simply redacted.

We are also a society with a myriad of health and nutrition issues, which are clearly linked to economic, racial, and sexual identity concerns. Heck, we are well aware that we need to address the disparity in participation in organized running events of any kind. Right now, it’s middle and upper-class White folks buying those shoes, adding those stickers to their vehicles, and posting their post-race selfies. Running may not be the solution to those health and nutrition issues, but I’d venture to guess it’s doing more good than op-ed columns critiquing folks to make healthy lifestyle decisions.

So, nobody is questioning whether or not there are issues that need to be addressed. Nobody is questioning that our society, AS A WHOLE, has entitlement issues and continues to struggle in search of an individual and collective identity. However, in the grand scheme of things, the sport of running isn’t really worthy of the scorn you seem intent on bestowing upon it. There are a lot of really significant issues going on in the world, and right here at home that mainstream media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal, fail to report on daily. Perhaps you should be taking a harder look at those issues, and not worry so much about a group of people eager to celebrate healthy, positive accomplishments and milestones of human achievement they never thought themselves capable. There are folks in every group destined to attract undue attention to themselves, but for each of those obnoxious folks, there are 100 others out there running for the thrill, the joy of experiencing what the human body is capable of when you push it, the adrenaline that running provides, the release and reflection it provides. Furthermore, many of us are doing it long before your alarm goes off (don’t worry, we’ll stick to the sidewalks and wear lights), so you never have to see us on the street and wonder. And, in case you are wondering, I keep my sticker in my office. I don’t like adding adhesives to my car- it lowers the resale value and is impossible to remove 😉

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7 thoughts on “It’s not about the sticker…but if it was, so what?”

  1. I love this post!! We are all on our own journey and no one knows what we are going through while on that journey.

    I love this quote by Jack Handey, “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

  2. I wish I knew where to start. I’d call the guy an idiot, but that’s misguided. Part of the fun of being human is letting your body language, your clothes, your hat, or your car speak for you. Someone who wears camouflage whatever wants you to know they’re outdoorsy, even though the camo probably doesn’t help them outdoors since they’re also wearing a bright orange vest (at least during hunting season). Most politicians wear US flags on their lapels for no apparent reason. Does anyone ever mistake John McCain for a French ambassador? Guys with massively huge cars are broadcasting their deficit in size below the belt (sorry…. I had to). When I wear fitness gear I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m not trying to scold anyone or say I’m better than them. Often I’m quite glad that other runners talk to me about it. I’m also quite glad when non-runners do, too, because at one time I was the guy saying to the runner, “wow….. 26 miles….. I think I’d be dead after 1!” It’s a story with a powerful message, a message that I use to carry 50 more pounds of me and wasn’t fit enough to manage a couple of flights of stairs without being at least a little winded. Running…. indeed, endurance sport, is about hope. Most of us will never be elites, and we know that. Most of us will never see a podium, and that’s fine. Most of us will watch the fleet-footed fly away from us, without a trace of envy. We hope to improve. We hope to set personal records. We hope to go longer than we’ve ever gone before. And we desperately, DESPERATELY hope to bring others along on our journey. We hope to spread the joy we get from something so simple as putting one foot in front of the other, to cover distances we once thought impossible under our own power. So, when I wear fitness gear, I’m being an ambassador, and not a jerk. Unless I’m wearing a cycling cap. Then I’m being a jerk.

    • Your comments are spot on! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Running is indeed a deeply personal experience for everyone, and we all experience, celebrate, and challenge in unique ways 🙂 Additionally, it sounds like we have quite a bit in common as far as our “origin” stories go…we would have probably been looking at each other, shaking our heads together when that marathoner ran by! As for the cycling cap…it’s a cheesehead that gets me worked up 🙂 LOL

  3. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing.

  4. Love the post. I’ve considered this for a long time; ever since I started seeing those stickers on cars. To me they are a bit self-aggrandizing, so I personally will stay away from adding a 100.0 sticker to my trunk. For those who like to share who they are, good for you. Really.

    The real issue, I think, is that: I think runners intimidate people, they remind them of what they should be doing, i.e. staying in shape, making healthy choices, and being the “Good Animal” they were meant to be. Too many of us feel some guilt at leading a Standard American Life, and hate being reminded of our “failure” for leading a more healthy life. !@#$ runners, shut up and keep your cutsie little stickers to yourself.

    Most of the other examples cited don’t have this impact and thus, are not so “in your face” as the 26.2 stick is.

    On another note, I really don’t like the stick families. There are so many of us on the road who don’t need to be reminded they cannot have a family, or come from one that has disintegrated.

    Maybe I think too much 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment! I think the idea that there is a “standard American life” gets us into trouble as well. When we look around, we see a microcosm of the diversity that this country encompasses, and it leads us to believe in that mythical ideal of “normal”, which never existed in the first place. Everyone has to be who they are going to be! As for thinking too much- there is never too much thinking 😉

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