Something tells me Stafko would not approve that I wore this outfit in public.

Something tells me Stafko would not approve that I wore this outfit in public.

So this guy Chad Stafko at the Wall Street Journal wrote an article a few days ago about runner’s putting 26.2 stickers on their cars and preening around shoving their athletic feats in everyone’s faces. I’d say give it a read but you probably already have, and if you haven’t, don’t bother. It’s pretty lame to be honest. When I read it, I wasn’t so much pissed off as I was incredulous that the Wall Street Journal would print such a thing. I kind of assumed they had higher journalistic standards, and that assumption had me doubting my interpretation of the piece…Could Stafko be writing a satire here? Is he making a long joke?  I read through the final paragraphs again to see if I had missed the punchline, and again I couldn’t find one. Huh.

I wasn’t annoyed enough to write a response right away. I kind of just thought “he doesn’t get it,” and moved on with my life, which has included tending to a sick baby, taking care of my own sick self, and dealing with the burst pipes under the house that generate our radiant floor heating…which are no longer generating heat for a few days…just in time for projected temperatures of 22 degrees tonight. Heyo!

Nonetheless I followed the buzz. During the many cracks of life that I use to watch my twitter feed, I observed as people got their feathers ruffled over the article, and read with curiosity a few response pieces written by people in the running industry. My favorite was Mark Remy’s response at “Runner’s World.” He “translates” Stafko’s article into common speak, and it gave me a much needed laugh. Mario Fraioli at “Competitor Magazine” tried to fight hatred with big open arms, inviting Stafko to try running, and Jim Gerweck challenged me to think about how the sport has changed with the invention of social media, giving a broader context to Stafko’s criticisms.

I wasn’t going to write anything but there are two things that keep circling in my head. Things circling in my head means no sleep, and sick moms really need sleep, so here it goes.

1. All the stickers and fancy running outfits and things that annoy Stafko…they aren’t really meant to get in people’s faces like he says. At least not for most people. They are a symbol of accomplishment for some. They are part of the culture of a tribe for others…they help people identify like minded people who enjoy the same lifestyle, which is really handy if you ask me, so long as it’s not exclusive and abusive. When I see someone with a running sticker on their car, I usually honk and wave! Given how the running community is, there is probably no more than five degrees of separation between us, (and Kevin Bacon).

2. Some runners (and endurance athletes in general) do tend to proselytize their way of life in a way that is very judgmental of non-active people. Being enthusiastic about what you do is one thing. Preaching and judging are another. I know we have an obesity crisis and everything, but when I witness someone in person or on the internet crossing that line into judging, it makes me sick inside.

At every single event I speak at, every expo where I meet with fans, there are lots of people who come up to meet me and, no joke, apologize to me before shaking my hand. “I only run a couple times a week,” they’ll say, or “I’m not a real runner like you,” or “I haven’t really been training as much and have put on some weight but…” or something else that puts them down a notch. It hurts me that someone would think I would judge them based on their running commitment or body type. But then I remember that these people don’t know me. They must be drawing an assumption about me based on what they experience in the greater running community at large. Somehow people like Stafko are being made to feel less-than. Some of that is their own deal and their own insecurities, but if we are being honest, some of it is created from within our ranks.

So what do we do about it? I’m curious what you guys think, but for now, this is what I’m doing. I take the same approach to spreading the love of running that many people I admire take with religion. Do less pushing and do more living. Live an open, magnetic life according to your values and I figure it will naturally attract people who are ready and receptive to it. The second thing is reminding myself that a lot of the life enhancement I get from running is less about actually pounding the pavement and more about having a passion. Someone can get this from art, or cooking, or sudoku, so I try to encourage the passion in others in whatever form it’s taking. And finally, branch out. As much as we love running, it’s not healthy to be surrounded and consumed by it 24/7/365. Keep some social slots open for non-running friends and non running activities. Mingle with civilians. Swap recipes. It’s good for all of us. Maybe if Stafko knew more runners he wouldn’t be slamming us.

Or maybe he’s just a curmudgeon. Hard to tell.