Saturday, November 30, 2013

On Being a Slow Runner

This morning I did my 13 mile long run and continued my three day running streak as part of the 2013 Runner's World Holiday Running Streak. I thought that after running 15 miles last week a 13 miler would be no big deal. Yeah, I was wrong.

From the very beginning, this run felt like a death march and as I struggled through all 13 painfully slow miles, I thought about what people think of slow runners. I came across a 2009 New York Times Article recently called "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?" I know 2009 is ancient history, but as I read the article and some of the comments after it, I found myself getting angrier and angrier. Here is one of the more infuriating quotes:

The marathon I am training for has a seven hour time limit and while I am training to finish in 6 hours or less, finishing at all will be one of my proudest accomplishments. I used to be obese. My highest weight ever was in middle school when, at 216.4 pounds, I was one of, if not the largest girl in my class. I couldn't run a lap around the basketball court in gym class without struggling, let alone run an entire mile.

And now look at me. I am training for a marathon. Me. I am not a naturally gifted athlete. I have short chubby legs, mild asthma, and moderate to severe Crohn's Disease, among other things. Nothing about my body is built for running. More gifted runners could finish their runs in half the time it takes me. I am slow, but I am nevertheless a runner and I deserve to be called one.

I'm sure the Adrienne Walds of the world genuinely believe runners like me have destroyed the marathon, but I genuinely believe the Adrienne Walds of the world need to learn a little humility and empathy. Maybe you're like her. Maybe you ran past me on the sidewalk this morning and you felt superior because you can run a faster mile than me. Congratulations! Would you still feel so smug if you knew that in 2010 I had a Crohn's flare so severe that I needed three surgeries in the space of six months and I almost died? Does it make you feel big and strong to belittle me for trying to accomplish my running goals with a broken body? Do you still want to tell me that I didn't put in as much effort as you even though I trained for just as many months, endured just as much pain, and gave it everything I had to give just like you? 

Maybe, and this is where the empathy part comes in, you should stop measuring other people with a ruler you designed for yourself to make you feel tall. You know, the one that takes your strengths into account and conspicuously disregards all your weaknesses. How about instead you take each person's individual differences into account and recognize that your very easy might be someone else's very hard? And when that happens, you do not get to be a condescending jerk about it. One day, Adrienne Wald is going to try something new and she is not going to be very good at it. I hope everyone around her masters it immediately and I hope that the experience is humbling. 

Today, I ran 13 miles and continued my 3 day running streak. It was not an easy run and finishing took every ounce of perseverance I have.

My splits were slow and perhaps the people who ran past me on the sidewalk thought I had no right to call myself a runner like them. But I am a runner and maybe if they knew more about my life they would realize that our effort is the same even if our finish times are different.

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