Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Running Sticker Dilemma

Every so often, discussions of the meaning of running stickers -- you know, the "26.2" or "13.1" or "Put your distance here" magnets or stickers -- pops up on the Internets, especially during the fall when many people are arriving at the completion of a running goal, whether that's a 5K, half, marathon, or even an Ironman.

Like pretty much every issue in the world today, thoughts either sit on one end of the spectrum or another. Some people think it's awesome and inspiring, while others think it's annoying and just someone "bragging" about some accomplishment that they can't understand. Why the hell would you want to run 26.2 miles, and it really bugs me that you want to broadcast it to the rest of the world! After all, I ate a box of Twinkies recently, that doesn't mean I'm gonna put a sticker of an empty box on the back of my car!

(Editor's note: Seriously, I saw someone make that argument on Facebook once.)

Spend a day driving around and you'll see that the back windows and bumper stickers of most cars are filled with stickers, from Star Wars or Mickey Mouse-themed stick figure families, their favorite sports team or political party, their college alma maters, or teams and activities that contain their kids' names and numbers.

Let's be honest...all of this is the product of the "look at me" culture that we live in. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, because my car is adorned with a large sticker proclaiming my love of the Chicago Cubs (by the way, Joe Maddon, FTW), and another supporting my son's high school cross country team. I also have a license plate frame from the high school (Aurora Central Catholic) that my oldest son, Matt, attended and where my youngest, Kevin, will be going next year. And it is only a matter of time before I get back on campus and get a Benedictine University sticker on my car too.

We all live in the "LAM" culture, and whether we care to admit it or not, we all contribute to it. Social media has made it so easy to share our lives with others that we all spend a lot of time sharing stuff that, frankly, most people don't care about. I'm sure that a small circle of friends care about what happens in my life, but do my all 225 of my Facebook friends and the combined 750 worldwide followers I have between my two Twitter accounts (I also write a blog about IndyCar) really need to know the details of the 31:02 5K I ran on Sunday?

They don't, but I tell them anyhow. That's just the way our culture works. When one of our kids wins a basketball tournament, for example, the Tweet that says "Jason's team just won the St. Rita Tournament title!" goes out before you even get up from the stands to go celebrate. People even post photos on social media sites WHILE an event is going on, and we all have at least one person in our lives that are so obsessed with their phones that they miss out on a lot because they never look up.

So in our quest to share ourselves with others via social media, it's an easy extension to do the same in the rest of our lives. What is kind of amazing, though, is the fact that while we have no issue disseminating info on social media -- easily ignoring tweets and posts that don't interest us -- we get really, super offended when someone annoys us in real life.

I know I'm biased because I'm a runner, but it seems like the "26.2" sticker (or one similar to that) is one that really raises the ire in a lot of people. I think it comes down to the fact that for some reason people are just annoyed with runners in general.

I think there are a lot of theories as to why, but it comes down to the idea that they don't understand and can't relate to what we do. Plus everyone can cite one example where they had a friend or co-worker who is or was a runner, and how it was SO aggravating to listen to them drone on about their training runs, races or diet.

Oh come on! I can also site many times in my life I've had to sit and hear someone go on and on about their fantasy football teams or how they are in a dispute with their kids' coach over playing time, even though I know the coach is right on because their kid isn't that good. I smile and nod and contribute to the conversation because I'm polite, and besides, anyone who is passionate about something likes to talk about it, so why would runners be any different? I can't talk about fantasy football -- and don't want to -- but ask me about running or travel (I'll go on for days about my trip to Italy last year) and you won't get me to stop.

That doesn't make me an annoying person, it makes me normal. And the more time I spend in the running community, the more normal I think runners are compared to most people! :--)

Sure, sometimes seeing different things on the back of a car is nauseating, but the next time you feel that way, take a second to think about what that sticker represents.

My wife Darcy has a "26.2" sticker on the back of her car. To many it doesn't mean a lot, but to me the sticker tells quite the story. That sticker tells the story of someone who went through a tremendous loss, the death of her sister, Sara, from a brain tumor, and how Darcy was able to battle back from brain surgery of her own to get to the starting line, and more importantly, the finish line, of  the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

Darcy gets embarrassed when I talk about her like this, but she is a rock star. I couldn't imagine going through something like brain surgery, she is so tough and so inspiring to me. She's battled back from so many things, she's so good at her job and is one of the best people I know. That and she played a big part in bringing me back from some pretty dark places to get to the starting line of the Chicago Marathon last year. I owe her so much, and I hope our life together is long so I can live long enough to repay her for all of it.

And me? If I had a sticker on my car, it would tell the story of someone who went through the dark times of a divorce and the loss of my sister, Joni, to cancer in December, 2011. It would represent the things I've learned in the eight times I have trained for and run a marathon, and would represent the celebration of my life coming full circle between marathon No. 7 in 2008 and the one last year.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you just never know. As I get older, I realize that more and more people fight the same battles every day that I do. Everyone is coping with something, and everyone has a story, whether that is how they got to the starting line of a marathon to their kids battling through something to make their travel baseball team.

Instead of scorning those that have running stickers on their car, I wish they would just show grace instead. Maybe that isn't their bag, but maybe what they have stuck on their car doesn't interest me, either. Still, I'm not going to ridicule them for what they choose to do and support, because they have a reason for putting it there, just like I do with my running sticker. No, I don't get the gist of the dog paw that says "Who Rescued Who?" magnets, because I can't imagine how rescuing a dog would make someone's life so much better (I like dogs but don't consider myself a big "dog person"), but at the same time I'm not going to write nasty things in a blog about it. Because maybe rescuing a dog did save someone's life.

Maybe Kasie the cheerleader was bullied and lacked self-confidence until she got up the courage to try out for the squad, or Mark the thespian was terrified of being in front of other people until he got up on stage and found out it was a rush to act out different characters and make people laugh or cry. Maybe their parents are just happy and proud that something makes that much of a difference in their lives.

You just never know.

In the end, running a marathon is a big deal, and no matter how many you run, each one changes you just a little bit. Heck, running a half-marathon is a big deal, and to some, running a 5K is a pretty incredible accomplishment. Life takes everyone to some dark places, for some people it's grief, others it's the uncertainty of a job or career, and to others it's about health issues, whether for them or a member of their family. Still, they showed the courage, discipline and fortitude to do something that they probably weren't comfortable with (like starting to run), and took it that much further by coming up with a goal and completing it.

Life is about celebrating accomplishments, and if you want to celebrate a running accomplishment with a sticker on your car -- go for it! Who cares what the trolls and haters think, you did something awesome. Some days, seeing a sticker on a car is the motivation I need to get up and go for a run, or think about my own journey and my own goals. In order for a running community to be strong, it needs everyone to feed off of each other, and sometimes seeing a sticker, or someone out for a run, is just what I need.

So when you see people being critical of running stickers, just block out the noise and remember that more people see your stickers and celebrate what you did than hate you for it. And, who knows, it might inspire someone else to do something great.

It's funny, but as I was putting this post together I found an article about Bob Kennedy running the New York Marathon this weekend. For those who don't know, at the turn of the century (and a few years before), Kennedy was a world class distance runner and at one time held three American records. The story talked about how he ran his last pro race 10 years ago (at the NYCM) but went five years without running and gained close to 60 pounds.

Story is here.

Anyway, in between raising his family and running his Indianapolis-based running store, he fell away from his identity as a runner, and didn't like running slow. I remember meeting him at the Mini expo in 2005 and asked him if he was ever going to run the Mini. His answer was maybe someday, when there wasn't this expectation for him to win or run really fast.

He now runs for the love of running, and hopes to run 3:30 on Sunday. I really liked a quote he had at the end:

“When you see people cross a half-marathon finish line in 2 hours 45 minutes with tears in their eyes, you kind of get it,” Kennedy said. “When I was 25, I didn’t get it. I really didn’t. I get it now.”

Don't worry about the haters. Lots of people get you, and lots of people understand and celebrate you. So celebrate yourself!

Matter of fact, I think I'm getting a 26.2 magnet for my car tonight!







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