Last Thursday, when I was running indoors at the Metrodome, there was a guy who crystallized in my mind exactly what's been bothering me for years. He was doing an interval workout, either because his coach told him to or he had a schedule that said that that was what he was supposed to do to get faster. When he finished the fast part of his repetition, he stopped dead and stood in place, causing everyone else to have to run around him; he even managed to lift his arm to read his watch in such a way that people had to swing extra wide to avoid getting clocked. Then he crossed from the faster innner circuit to the slower outer one without looking to see if anyone was coming. He then jogged his slower interval in what is essentially the passing lane, causing everyone who was moving faster than him to have to dart in and out of the crowd. He then joined a group of his friends, who stood in a large pack, many with their backs to the oncoming runners, creating a log jam that no one could maneouver around (they also managed to put all their outdoor clothes two feet further into the running area than everyone else did). Then that group ran together, making it impossible for anyone to get past them and talking to each other, oblivious to everything except themselves.
It happens that these were all triathletes. There were others who behaved the same boorish way, but this has become endemic to triathletes and that is the previously undefinable "something" that has irritated me about triathletes in general (individually, most are quite likeable). It is becoming very common among the general running population as well, as people who train on a treadmill wearing headphones end up doing races where they interfere with everyone else because they've never learned how to behave around other athletes.
Running as a sport has its own culture. This means that it has traditions built upon a shared history and it has its own etiquette. This etiquette is just common-sense courtesy, but becomes second nature, almost instinctual, with time. It is what distinguishes someone as a runner and not just someone who happens to run.
You can either learn the culture, become part of it and add to it - or you're just a #$%^&* tourist. Ours is becoming a tourist society. Life is more than a checklist and itinerary. If you run a marathon to check one more thing off your bucket list, you're a tourist. If you think that just by running the Boston Marathon you become part of that race's tradition, you've missed the point; you should know why the race began in the 1880's, why it goes the route it does, how Heartbreak Hill got its name; you should know that Katherine Switzer was not the first woman to run Boston, nor even the fastest the year she did it; Tarzan Brown, Clarence DeMar and Amby Burfoot should be names you know. You have to know the culture before you can claim to be part of it.
People keep coming to this blog looking for information, but they want to be told what to do. They want schedules. They don't care about who invented interval training or why; they don't care what the targeted physiological adaptations are supposed to be; they want to be told "run x meters in y minutes z times and you can finish your race in so many minutes." Context means nothing to them; performance is all.
The history is important. One of the people on my blogroll irritated me by stating that my personal bests (listed way down at the bottom of this blog) are immaterial; "What have you done lately? You're only as good as your last race." You can be very fast, you can even win a lot of races, and not be part of the sport. There is more to running as a sport than getting from the starting line to the finish as fast as possible.
You don't have to become a runner to run. Occasional tourists to our world are welcome; just recognize that our world doesn't revolve around you. If you aren't going to learn the culture, at least learn the etiquette.
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