Anyone who is interested in running or fancies themselves a runner has surely seen Chad Stafko’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal drift across their social media stream. Titled “OK, You’re a Runner. Get Over It,” Stafko uses the piece to decry, um, exercise? Or talking with others about the exercise in which you’ve participated? Or looking like someone who exercises? To be honest, I’m not 100% certain I understand what his argument is. General bullet points include, but are not limited to:
- we pretend to enjoy it
- runners are too self-congratulatory
- there are too many things like stores, magazines, and bumper stickers that we use to identify ourselves
- we do it to be seen
Naturally, I can only speak for myself. I can say unequivocally that exactly none of the above applies to me.
I don’t do things I don’t enjoy. It’s actually a problem to which my bank account can attest.
I don’t talk about my running that much unless asked (usually by another runner), and when I do bring it up it’s almost always to my wife, who, by virtue of being my wife, will hear about every other detail of my day as well.
I can’t control the amount of resources available to runners, Chad Stafko. I’m sorry. I see that you think all we need to run is a pair of shoes and some clothes, and in essence that’s true (one key reason I love running so much–its simplicity). But anyone who’s spent more than 30 minutes running in a simple cotton t-shirt on a hot day can attest to the feeling of having your nipples slowly sanded away by said t-shirt. You need a few specialty items to do this without bleeding, good sir. In come the running stores. I’m sorry they’re coming between you and your Starbucks.
I cannot imagine a more perfect run than one in which I’m seen by zero human beings. I would estimate about 40% of my mental energy during a run in Central Park, where I jog about four times a week, is dedicated to anticipating the illogical movements of others, dodging the movements I couldn’t anticipate, berating them in my head for not understanding simple directional pictures painted on the road, and generally wishing I could make everyone in my line of sight disappear using only the power of my mind. But that’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself. I also do all of these things on the sidewalk, or while looking out my window, or in my sleep.
Let’s take a second to examine how many other hobbies and interests fall under the criteria that Chad Stafko listed as being distasteful:
Books. Did you know there are whole groups of people who do nothing with their free time but read? They talk about what they’re reading on Facebook. They post pictures of their bookshelves. They meet once a week to talk about the same book they’re all reading. There are whole stores with nothing but books in them. I’ve even seen people reading books on the subway, just begging for someone to ask them about what they’re reading.
Knitting. Did you know that there are whole groups of people who do nothing in their free time but knit? They put pictures of their knitting on Facebook. They belong to knitting groups there too, and share funny pictures about knitting. They all meet and knit together. There are whole stores with nothing but knitting supplies, which of course just sell yarn and needles. I’ve even seen people knitting on the subway.
I could go on. These are all just hobbies, things people do when they’re not obligated to do something else. They do them because they derive pleasure from them. In the case of reading, it’s also good for your mind. Knitting results in actual things people can wear. Running is good for your health. People like to find others with common interests and talk about those interests. To do so, you often need to identify yourself somehow. Do I think it’s absurd to wear a marathon finisher shirt, tights and a headband just to go to Starbucks, assuming you’re not running to and from Starbucks? Of course. Do I enjoy it when I’m with someone who can only talk about one subject, and that subject is running? No. Nor would I enjoy it if the subject were any other singular thing. That’s just a bad conversationalist.
Let me tell you why I run. It’s meditative. If I don’t have my iPod, which is sometimes the case, all I can hear is the park around me which muffles the eight million souls pressing all around it. All I can hear are my footfalls and my breath. That’s all I have. It can be tough to start, sometimes, but inevitably I will find flow and the time slips by and I find I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last three or five or six miles. If I do have my iPod, I’m listening to podcasts, and the ones I listen to are entertaining and informative. It’s a beautiful way to see the city. Stafko finds fault in someone who chooses to “get up at 5 a.m. and run 10 miles adorned with fluorescent tape to avoid being struck by someone who has the good sense to use a car for a 10-mile journey.” The painfully obvious points about America’s obesity rates and air pollution aside, getting out of your car and seeing the city around you by foot or bicycle is refreshing. I’ve run the entire west coast of Manhattan in my time, from the new Freedom Tower to the George Washington Bridge and beyond. It’s breathtaking. I’ve driven the West Side Highway and hated every second of it. And finally, running makes me hard.
Ew, no, not like that. No innuendo.
I could have said “tough” but it doesn’t feel right. I mean hard, like Fight Club. Running is my fight club. In that film Edward Norton says men would come into the fight club made of cookie dough and come out carved from wood.
Again with the innuendo. Just assume that nothing I’m saying in this post refers to boners.
Does that make me superior? Yes, it certainly does, in this respect. I’m superior to someone who has not chosen a goal and worked to achieve that goal. Years ago I couldn’t run more than three miles and it was difficult, but I enjoyed it enough to want more. I researched, I found out how to run farther, I worked towards that goal and now I can run six miles without difficulty. I decided to run a marathon. I trained for months, with a longer run as my goal each week, and each week I achieved that goal until I strained my leg through reasons not worth getting into here. That’s not to say that Chad Stafko has never set a goal for himself and achieved that goal, but why shoot it down when others do the same? What does it benefit him?
And finally, not to play the dead dad card, but I’m totally going to play the dead dad card. In 2005 my dad was killed by the spare tire he’d been carrying around his waist for my entire conscious life. You think that didn’t motivate me to kick up my running game a few notches? I’d be a fool if it didn’t. I know heart disease can run a lot deeper than just “you didn’t run enough when you had the chance,” but your odds are much better if you get up off the couch and start moving, instead of staying on the couch and throwing snark darts at everyone whizzing by you.
The Wall Street Journal is of course notoriously conservative in many ways, and it’s my understanding that conservatives value things like freedom and working hard for yourself, staying away from dependence on others. What’s more free than getting out there and running? You’re not locked into a treadmill or a rowing machine (though, if you enjoy that, more power to you–whatever works). You’re not even stuck to a certain path. If you want you can just take off across a field or down a beach. You’re staying healthy, which means you’re less dependent on insurance, which is of course a socialist concept to begin with.
Ultimately I don’t care what Chad Stafko thinks about how I choose to spend my time. He doesn’t know me, and he’ll never read this. What truly bothers me is his attitude, and the fact that it was amplified by a mouthpiece like the Wall Street Journal. That’s disheartening. It’s petty. It’s helpful to no one, and it’s certainly not news. Aren’t we supposed to be up in arms about how fat and slobby and unambitious we are? About how we’re being outpaced by everyone around us? About how our kids don’t understand hard work, or how anything worth getting is difficult to get?
I feel bad for him, because to tear down something that others enjoy indicates to me that there isn’t much he does enjoy. He’s never run by the lake in Central Park at dusk, when snow is falling and it’s quiet enough to hear the flakes land and the skyline of 59th Street south of the park is nothing but points of light held in the snow haze. He’s never run down the West Side Highway in view of the Statue of Liberty, the training montage music from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! running through his head. He’s never run in the freezing rain, not a soul in sight until someone comes from the opposite direction and you share a look that says in .5 seconds “Yeah, this is pretty shitty, but we love it and we are badass.”
But he did get a snarky little opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal, so I guess he has that going for him.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.