Monday, August 10, 2009

Born to Run

Road races are one of the only sporting events in which beginning, intermediate and advanced participants all compete together.
Most competitions are broken down into categories and you have to move up through them in order to compete with those of higher caliber. For example in figure skating, those of us who've only mastered the waltz jump don't get to compete against skaters who can perform triple lutzes.
But not running. Runners who just laced up their Nikes for the first time last week can fill out an on-line application and tow the line with four-minute milers. If you qualify for the Boston Marathon, or kowtow to the right authorities in order to score a coveted waiver, you can traverse the same course through Hopkinton, Natick, and Newton as the winners will - only minutes, probably hours, later.
That said, and with due respect to all you finishers of the Falmouth Road Race, when runners talk about running it really is the most boring thing ever.
There's no opposing team, no goal posts, no extra point, no sudden death overtime, no penalty shots, and no unscrupulous German judges wildly scoring the short program portion of the competition. Because most runners are only competing against themselves, there's little to make their stories interesting.
And yet runners can (and do) go on and on and on - well past the point where even people who are married to - and consequently understand some runner lingo - lose interest.
If you must talk about running let the stories be anecdotal such as the time you broke someone's nose at the start of the Brewster Road Race or the time in high school when you pulled down your warm-up pants in front of a female teammate prior to a race and were surprised to find yourself standing in your jock strap. There's the time you ran through a blizzard to win the Nantucket marathon only to be presented with the ugliest piece of pottery you'd ever laid eyes on. Later you learned the piece was created by a world-renowned potter, which made you sorrowful when it tumbled off the mantle and smashed into tiny pieces.
Amusing stories are worth telling, and even more importantly, worth listening to.
But instead we've encouraged navel gazing, in road racing and in life. Radio stations position runners to report from the back of the pack, the Times has a front page story - not about Tilahun Regassa - but about their sports editor who ran ten-minute miles. Maybe the reason for taking the focus off the winners is to keep them from getting a skewed sense of their accomplishments, just ask Carolyn Bird about the year she met Alberto Salazar and he stretched out his hand to her as if she were supposed to bend down and kiss it. It's a race, friend, not a coronation.
So save those stories about your PRs, your chafing, and how you tossed your cookies (again!) coming up the hill in the Heights or you'll inspire your friends to run all right - away from you.

song: Born to Run • artist: Bruce Springsteen


Anonymous said...

well, you and i both know that the really good stories were told back at the ole depotgroup gatherings, eh?

Joanne said...

Yes! There were some good stories there - mostly told by Damon.