We often hear how “the sport is changing”. Some people devote inordinate amounts of time lamenting these changes and wondering about the future.
I strongly believe in values – our values and vision drive our personal lives, our businesses, and then ultimately our individual lives translate into the state of our sport – these few and fundamental values do not change.
However, everything else does change. Constantly; like, all the time.
So we might as well get used to it – or better yet, embrace change, because the universe really doesn’t give a darn about what we like or don’t like.
So what does all that mean for the sport of running?
I ran my first X-C race in 1967. There were maybe 20,000 non-scholastic runners in the US back then. Fast forward to last year, when have 42 million runners just in the US, 516,000 of whom raced a Marathon.
This is massive growth in our sport, and I do not know what that means to you – you are the only person to decide that – but here’s how it effects me – – –
Since many more people are doing what I’m doing, I can now run with my friends instead of alone. What I love to do is understood in the workplace as well as at home, and I fit into society without a sideways glance (except maybe when I show up dirty and sweaty wearing skimpy shorts at the supermarket). And very unlike 48 years ago, I now see dozens of runners out there every day, no matter the weather, time of day or year. And every one I see makes me happy. Seeing people running is like seeing birds flying – something in my heart is lifted when I see a person breathing air, moving their body, exercising their beliefs, all from their own self-will.
42 million runners also means the big races charge big fees. One race has 50,000 participants (!), sometimes to gain entry you have to enter a lottery (!!), the winners of the World Marathon Majors win a $500,000 paycheck (!!!), and naturally with so much on the line, some people will extend their desire to excel by ingesting illegal substances, which will require an even larger expenditure of money to figure it all out.
That second part is unfortunate, I’d prefer it didn’t happen, but what does it mean to me? If I was trying to win 500,000 dollars it would mean a lot, but myself, along with the other 41,999,990 of you, do not have to be part of all that. We are having own experience, which we control ourselves.
The summer after that first race in 1967 I ran 10–20 miles every day. Wearing a cotton t-shirt, cotton gym shorts, cotton socks, and split leather shoes that weighed almost a pound. Each. My entire workout plan was to run down a road from my house until I got tired, then turn around and run back. I could not believe how much fun that was. I had no clue what the world was about, I had no bloody idea what I was going to do with my life, but somehow this had meaning, and I could hardly believe how happy I was.
So while the sport supposedly has changed, for me, not much else has! (Except for my knees and my mileage).
The following summer, on one of my scientifically crafted, “run in one direction until you get tired then turn around” workouts, I must have been fairly fit because I went 16 miles out before turning around. On the way back, about 1 1/2 miles from home, I suddenly found myself lying on the ground. I looked up confused and bewildered, and realized the 5” height of the curb while crossing a side street was too much and I had collapsed. Since this was July in Michigan, and I never carried any food or water, in retrospect the outcome was to be expected.
At that time, there were maybe 2-3 Ultra-Marathons in the US; today there are 136 hundred mile races alone, along with 6.8 millions trail runners, and the 200 mile race is becoming the new high bar.
That is enormous growth just in ultra running. I’m not sure what this means either.
To me, running is running. Road, trail, ultra – I personally find kinship in all – and I have never thought going longer, like 100 miles, was at all better. I’ve been an active “ultra runner” for decades, mostly because I like going places I’ve never been before, and it simply takes time to get wherever that is.
If I could have dunked a basketball back then I’d probably never have taken up running. Or if any girls liked me. If I could surf the winter swell at Bonzai Pipeline I’d probably quit running right now. But this is my sport, and it’s as good now as it ever was, even if my knees aren’t.
The most impressive running I’ve ever seen was my 4 year old granddaughter, chasing after seagulls, barefoot in the sand and water on the beach at Lake Michigan. Totally fruitless endeavor, except for the joy. Running away from Sabertooth tigers was probably even more impressive, but we don’t see much of that anymore.
What we do see is ultra runners getting paid actual money. And all the big races require a hefty fee to enter a lottery, which at the original 100 miles race you have a 4.6% chance of being allowed to show up at the starting line. The “aid stations” are unbelievable – there’s more food at those tables than I eat at a regular meal – if the nation’s homeless people found out about this bonanza, ultra races would become even more crowded.
Interestingly, though I’m one of the people paying ultra runners to run, even I am not sure why I’m doing it. Maybe it has something to do with my long run back in 1968 – 32 miles with no water left an indelible impression so I want to promote everyone to carry water when running.
Other than that, the whole “sponsorship” thing seems sort of pointless really – all runners are going to run whether they get paid or not, so why bother with “sponsorship”? So while some people decry these “changes to our sport”, I’m not seeing how it actually changes anything.
It’s like after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Some brilliant TV commentators were saying this would be the end of “Boston”, as runners would be to afraid to come back the next year.
Terrorists are stupid enough already, but if any of them thought they could destroy the human spirit with a little bomb, runners were the wrong group of people to target.
Sorry; after all this musing I’ve come up with no answers. I still have no clue what running means. This essay is stupid, totally pointless, and a failure.
But it just seems that if you do what you love, with respect, integrity, and joy, and myself and everyone else does the same thing … well, that IS our sport. We are our sport. We create it every time we go for a run.
I hope it’s a good one, and I hope to see you out there!
What do YOU think? Is the sport changing for better, or for worse, or is it time to not worry about it and just go?
Every year there’s a new study that shows running adds three years to your life, or takes away four years. Or maybe it gives you bad knees, or maybe it improves your heart health. The people doing these studies are clearly not runners, because if they were, they’d realize that no one is out there running (or not running) because it’s good for them. If running takes five years off my life, that’s fine. At least I’ll have lived happy and chasing fruitlessly after seagulls.
Running is an internet sport. Along with the internet came its popularity. Along with the internet came all sorts methodologies of how to run, perhaps when and why to run too. You can find where to run or race on the internet in a way you could not in the past. Of course, you can socialize about running on the internet. I believe the socialize aspect brings in the females more so than the males, which is wonderful. You can track the results of others on the internet with ease, from the big time to local scene to your friends and family. I don’t think I need to mention all the technology that has come about that would not be if there was internet to promote it.
Nice article. I was one of those High School X-C runners in the late 1960s. I loved running since I was 6. My goal was to run all the way home without stopping – .75 miles. I did it at 6 and did it several times a year until 5th grade when I started bicycling everywhere around the San Francisco Bay Area on my new 10-speed….much like Dean Karnazes…in 6th grade I decided to ride from Redwood City to far end of Palo Alto on El Camino to surprise my grandparents – probably 10-12 miles on back roads and main roads. I just loved the freedom of pushing myself to go further. In past few years I’ve done 6 ultras and 6 marathons with one artery blocked (found out in time after LAD 92% blocked after last ultra), plus lots of shorter races. I really love running and have started over again and again after hospitalizations, surgeries, diseases, etc. It makes me feel alive just like I enjoyed in the 1960s, I really, really enjoy it now in my 60s, especially since I have multiple running courses through some beautiful national Civil War battlefields – humbling, thought-provoking, and exhilarating. Thanks for your article….bottom line: Just do it: RUN!
This is totally not a stupid or pointless post.
So often people complain about all of the changes in running and how it’s become this over-saturated sport where anyone can call themselves a runner….whatever their pace, if they run races (or not), or if they choose ‘frou frou’ races. But that’s the beauty of running! Darn near anyone can do it. Instead of scowling at the new joiners, greet them with open arms, say, “Welcome!”, and show them the ropes so they don’t make the same mistakes we have.
I guess I should qualify my comment with saying that I’m somewhat of a ‘new’ runner (as I started running back in 2007) and a ‘late bloomer’ since I didn’t start running until my 20s. I should also state that my goals aren’t like many in that I don’t get caught up with the numbers (chances are you won’t find me in Boston anytime in the future). I do my best to train smart, push my limits, and run legit races…but ultimately, #IJustRun.
One of the simplest things we all do from the age of One-ish. We’re all just trying to belong to a tribe. Larger tribes have multiple member types. Multiple member types have multiple member type opinions. We as a tribe.. should not only continue the simplicity of Left-Right-Repeat… but the simplicity of hearing all member type opinions and then.. just moving on. 🙂
Having run for over 40 years I guess I can say I have seen a few changes in my day. I started running in 1974 at age 24. I had no idea how to train so I checked out a book from the library called “Running from dogs and other people” by Hal Higdon. The book has some good training advice as well as some good running philosophy. Races were far and few back then however I did manage to locate a marathon in Lafayette, La called the International Rice Festival Marathon ran from Lafayette to Crowley, La Some of the guest speakers were Dr George Sheehan and Joe Henderson. Anyway without boring you all with all the details I am still running some 40 years later having missed no more than a three month span due to injury. A perfect example of how much things have changed I had a young friend of mine ask me the other day “how did you all sign up for races before they had the internet?”
I think stupid, utter failures are part of life. Glad you’re in it. Now. Go run in the snow.
The thing about running I love the most is….anyone can step out their door and do it. Its for us all, access to the masses. Minimal investment in gear and your off. Its not weather dependent either…you know how many hours I’ve spent hunting around for a uncrowded surf spot, or good waves? Too many to count….running clears out all the BS – its your mind, heart and legs moving through space. Ever heard someone yell at you that you don’t belong at a certain trail? Happens all the time in surfing.(believe me I know). Maybe some don’t like it being a sport for “most”, but if people find joy in it, they spread their joy when they come home from a great run(most are), then we all benefit…right?
Running as an activity, both casual and competitive, is a pretty recent innovation. Not it the sense that people discovered running in the 70’s, but more like it was re-discovered. So I hope it’s changing, I like that you can pretty much run anywhere now. Way back in the late 80’s, my soccer team ran an out and back trail up to a trio of mountain lakes and people used to look at us like we had three heads. Now it seems weird not to encounter runners on that trail. I hope running is changing and I can’t wait to see where we go next.
Yes, running is changing. I’m VERY happy more people are running! That’s a great thing! More people off the couch and onto the roads and paths is always a positive. But there are a couple things I see changing. I’m a runner of 30+ years myself, so I’ve seen decades of changes. It used to be that 5Ks and 10Ks were taken more seriously. Now, 5Ks are seen as more “fun” than anything. I’m sad about this. A 5K or a 10K should be seen (and practiced for) as seriously as a longer race. Sure, it doesn’t take the mileage that a marathon does. I’ve done those too and in miles, it’s tougher, but try doing the sprints necessary to be FASTER in a 5K – that’s tougher! I wish the prestige for shorter races was still around. I miss that. Secondly: Strength training is just starting to gain importance. In just the last couple of years I found out how important it is to have a strong core, hips and glutes. I used to just “go run” and it never bothered me. Not until I had IT Band issues that I found how miserable it can be. Fortunately, I think that is changing for the better. More and more I see stories about how important it is to strength train. So, we experienced runners, both rabbits and turtles, have been dealing with the ups and downs throughout the years, I don’t see any of us going away. 🙂 Nice article.
Growing up in the hood. Running wasnt something saught after. If you ran you looked like a fool to anyone driving or waiting for the bus. I chose to put ot all aside and step outside. My goal is to set up the very first half marathon in Boyle Heights Ca. With or with out permits…it jas chamged here. We mlw organize runs on wednesday nights and we get over 100 people to join us. No runnong back round..its chamged for the better.
With trail running you have to accept and quickly respond to the changes in you path… so I guess running is and will always be changing and evolving to new paths. I embrace the change in our sport, and it is up to us to keep it as clean and respected as it has been.
Of course running is changing. Like Buzz said, pretty much everything changes constantly. There’s no point in lamenting that fact. Another fact we just have to accept is that there will always be curmudgeons who complain about everything. Even if what they’re complaining about, is their favorite sport becoming more popular.
What is this the Third Reich? Are we concerned about the collective gene pool of the running community? Are we going to start eliminating people with poor form or a slow pace? Sure, popularity can be annoying. We all have a little sliver of hipster in us somewhere that recoils every time something we like gets too popular. Could it be, that this thing I love, that made me feel unique, is not really unique anymore?
There are a lot of people, most of us just want to fit in, good things like running are going to get a little crowded. Is it harder to get into some races these days? Sure. But are there also significantly more races to run in now? Yes. Maybe they don’t all carry the prestige of Boston. Maybe we need a few more Boston’s. And maybe we’ll eventually have to change the way events are operated; possibly by skill level, or qualifying times, or whatever.
But unless these doomsayers are willing to drop those fancy new running shoes, throw away all that comfortable running apparel, and smash their GPS watches with a hammer, they’ll just have to accept that those are the trappings of popularity.
I don’t think curmudgeons are even close to the majority. Most people are just out enjoying running because one of the most beautiful things about it, is that you don’t need anyone but yourself to do it, and you don’t need anyone but yourself to compete with. As for my favorite thing about running; if you have enough breath to complain, you aren’t running fast enough 😉
I’ve been running since somewhere in the confusing teenager years, for me that fell in the early 80’s. Some years later, I ran as a part of my job description (at times, police, fire, and military). Like my teenager years, I now run for the freedom and mind-space, though I never knew those concepts by those names at the time. I have also reverse-evolved to barefoot running now. At first, while reading about barefoot running, and re-learning to run, I thought to myself, “how can something so simple be so complex?” And then, after getting the knack, “how can something so complex be so simple?” To which I’ll add “So automatic? So natural? So uniquely human?”
As I get older, and keep at it, I find running is less of an activity for me, and more of a definition of me.