Leading up to Chicago I was doing a great deal of my training with a group of guys who all run at a relatively similar level and who are all seriously engaged in competitive running. We were all preparing for the same marathon and had our respective goals to shoot for, of which some of us beat, some of just missed, but all had a, from what I’m told, good race experience. At the race our group finished within 2:21 to 2:25, which on its own is a pretty awesome showing at such a prominent marathon, but even more interesting is that we all live within a couple blocks of each other. Ok, 3 of those guys have all moved into the same house and I live a couple blocks away. It was amusing when we discovered our proximity after running together for awhile. So after Chicago it kinda hit a couple of us how cool it was that we ran at that level and all live so close. It was brought up that, if all goes well,Fall Creek (our neighborhood) might have 4 runners make it to the Olympic Marathon Trials this time around. At the very least, it’s pretty rad that 4 of us are in the position to go for it. That sounds like a regional news story to me anyways! The running joke now is that there “must be something in the water”.
This is the thing though, 4 runners placing as high as we did at one of the world major marathons means…well….nothing. No one cares. Ok, our friends and family that follow us along the way were incredibly supportive during and after the runs, but on any larger scale, it was just another race. And no matter how awesome it is to each of us individually and no matter how much work we know goes into pulling something like that off, we amount to nothing more than a couple blog posts around the internet. Our performances mean nothing to the local papers, but to be fair, that isn’t necessarily because they wouldn’t cover something like that, but rather because no one gives a shit about competitive distance running….for good reason to, which I’ll get at in a little bit. If news coverage were something we were going after, it would be up to us to generate it. We’d have to market ourselves. We aren’t high school basketball stars trying to go pro before college, something which a lot of people care about. We are merely runners. We get no respect. We get no recognition. But if you ask me, we deserve it. I’m not saying I don’t strive to be humble at every opportunity, but I’m also going to be honest about my feelings regarding my and my friends efforts. It’s that simple.
Let’s face it though, no one gives a crap about competitive distance running. It simply isn’t a spectator sport. No matter that the majority of our populace participates in the sport and no matter that while people have curbed their spending during the recession, running events continue to grow and grow with more and more participants, running as a competitive act is barely given the time of day. And there are so many legitimate reasons for this. If you haven’t put in the work and suffered through so many race experiences, you simply don’t GET the excitement of a race. You simply won’t get why a lot of us can be glued to our screens simply watching someone put one foot in front of the other. It’s just not exciting with its lack of variety in action. There are no stops and starts. There is hardly any tension build up. Tactics and strategies are so subtle that you barely know they are even taking place. Then there is the high turnover of stars. With a few exceptions, most runners have their few moments in the spotlight and then explode with the effort. It’s so hard to continue the progression, or even just sustain, at the level that most top competitive runners run. Their bodies just can’t continue over and over at that level. And then there is no continuation, no drama to follow. Runners aren’t necessarily part of teams that compete in a series that is shown every weekend. We can’t race every weekend. Each effort takes a certain amount of training, recovery, and peaking before we can put our best on the line. To expect this to happen every weekend for the sake of retaining viewership is just absurd. Running simply is not a dominant culture sport. It won’t keep the attention of the populace necessary for the proper advertising dollars. If you come up with a way to do so, short of naked running, let’s talk.
All this, however, doesn’t mean runners don’t deserve or shouldn’t seek out recognition, but in order to be effective it will have to be done on a much smaller level…locally probably. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was the only one thinking in these terms, considering marketing oneself, seeking out sponsorship, building a culture of running based on a more attractive approach than most people perceive of it today, but it turns out most of the guys I run with think similarly, it’s just a matter of acting on it. With that in mind it was brought up that we should start a track club or distance squad or running team or whatever you wanna call it, and with that impetus we’ve now begun creating the structure for a running team that will look for the recognition and support needed to facilitate our running. Now, we aren’t looking to make it on billboards or anything, though I’m sure a newspaper might be interested in picking up a story or two, but primarily we are looking to gain sponsorship to help us out as we travel around the area for races. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but my motivations are two-fold. For starters I want financial help with my training and racing needs (shoes, socks, shorts, race travel money, etc.) and secondly, I want to bring attention to and build a new perception of competitive racing culture in the area. I want to coolify (yup, my word) running, taking part of it from the 4 to 5 hour marathon plodders (no disrespect) and push it towards a more aggressive, passionate, youth-focused approach. I want to present competitive running culture more like how the roller girls have marketed themselves, but without the self-debasing sexualization (though I think Little actually wants to be objectified). I want people to be excited to watch us throw down on the streets, to want our bumper stickers on their cars, to wear our t-shirts, to recognize our efforts, to think of crazy super humans walking the line of collapse instead of middle-aged well-to-do’s smugly patting themselves on the back for sticking to their new years resolution to “get healthy” when anyone mentions a running race.
Now, I know this sounds kinda masturbatory, but I don’t mean to present it that way really. I’m just continuously in awe at what some of the local and regional athletes can do with their physical selves and just as amazed that these accomplishments go by with nothing more than a non-monetary gift certificate or a nice little plague to put on the shelf. People…this shit needs to be recognized! There are so many ways to do this, and I don’t expect anyone to feel obligated to do so, but if we really pull together this Fall Creek distance team you can bet we’re not going to hold back in trying. See you in the papers.
Look, I promise you I’m not bringing up this topic repeatedly for the shock value, it’s just that this topic keeps bringing itself up, probably due to the inherent nature of its shock value. Regardless, remember those “Fuck this. I’m going running.” bumper stickers I made? Well, their effect continues to resonate throughout the more conservative avenues of our self-professed free society. I swear, if I knew they would cause such a continuous and volatile reaction I would have hired some Ivy League college to fund their creation for the purposes of some sociological study on human behavior in relation to language. It’s fascinating really. Today I received a call from my running friend out in Connecticut who is one of only a handful of brave souls to actually apply the bumper sticker to their car (and I’m still jealous that mine were ripped off twice and his has been left intact) and he relayed the following story.
Leaving church today he noticed a cop car was following behind for a short while. Not thinking much of it he pulls into a parking space to make a trip to the ATM when all of a sudden the cop pulls up next to him and makes a motion for him to roll down his window. If I remember the retelling correctly the following back and forth ensued,
Cop : “Not for nothing, but if I were you I’d take that bumper sticker off your car. Kids read that shit you know. Not to mention, there are some cops who will pull you over and ticket you for that.”
Friend : “Really? What would the charge be for that?”
Cop : “Disturbing the peace.”
Welcome to what is called “the land of the free”, which apparently is supposed to mean, you are free to conduct your affairs how you please in so far as they don’t disrupt the sensibilities of those in power, and if you do offend those sensibilities you won’t be arrested right away, but don’t think any number of threats won’t be first given allowing you the chance to do some self-censorship of your own instead of forcing someone’s hand.
I can’t help but wonder if the gentleman who told me, “You should be arrested” didn’t put out an APB to the nation’s police force and the chickens are finally coming home to roost.
Really though, I can’t get over the reactions these stickers invoke in people, considering how many other bumper stickers with arbitrarily defined swear words are out in the world, often related to politics and religion. And these are just about RUNNING of all things? Once I got thinking about it though, I started to understand (not agree with, just understand) the reactions. I don’t necessarily think the reactions spring from the usage of the word “Fuck”, but rather that it is used in the context of something so incredibly harmless like running. If the term was used to describe one’s feelings towards politics or religion I think there would be an unspoken respect for the intensity one feels towards those type of subjects, but because the word is being used for an activity that isn’t supposed to conjure up such a deep seated emotional reaction (methinks they just don’t REALLY UNDERSTAND running), people then respond to nothing but its casual usage. They are probably most offended that someone would have the gall to make the term so commonplace. However, I wonder if the cop would have taken a similar reaction if someone said this just standing on the sidewalk, or even went as far as saying it repeatedly as streams of people walked by? I doubt it. So yeah, maybe my observations touch on an unconscious reaction…..or maybe people just hate running. I guess I understand both.
However, I can’t help but think that, in my city anyways, if someone had a bumper sticker that said, “Fuck the Saints. Go Colts!” Not only would they not be rebuked and threatened by the police, but would probably be given a nice boys club pat on the back.
Or maybe I’m just bitter. Regardless, although I don’t want to be mistaken for a patriot of any sort, let’s just look at these stickers as doing their part to test the professed values of “freedom” and “democracy” that most of the public so vehemently stands behind. All I can say is…prove it. Oh, and the stickers aren’t going anywhere.