To be nobody but yourself in a world doing its best to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight and never stop fighting.As I sit in the auditorium of the Dairy Center for Performing Arts in Boulder, surrounded by some the best and the brightest in running, past, present and future, I am struck by a certain strangeness: The room is full of slim, fit, well educated, well off white people. That's pretty much Boulder - at least the Boulder most people know and choose to see.
- e. e. cummings
The crowd reflects the demographics of running: Male: 76 % earn over $75,000/yr, 76% are college educated. Female: 70.3% earn over $70,000/yr, 78.2% are college educated (RRCA). This doesn't exactly make most runners "average" Americans.
The evening opens with a show of hands from those who ran that day. How many miles, 1...5...10...20...50...? Hands wave through the air like so many first graders vying for attention...recognition...legitimacy. Thank goodness I ran 9 miles that day - oh, did I add that it was a tempo run - or I would have wanted to quietly crawl under my seat.
Now we, the choir, are all set to hear all about the "ordinariness" of Scott Jurek. The "everyman" everyone and anyone can transform themselves into - to be something rather than nothing. It is a bit much for this choir girl - though even I want to believe.
I am not exactly "part" of the Boulder running scene and for those on the outside (though I'm not necessarily on the 'outside' either) it can seem pretty intimidating. I've heard many, many Boulder area runners comment about the overly competitive attitude of serious runners in Boulder - and while I don't think that's actually the case, I do see how some could see it that way. Running in Boulder is intense and the 'community' is dedicated, close knit - dare I say (and I may get some flak for this), even a bit (in appearance) clicky. The problem here is that it tends to scare people off. Some are afraid to run a race or join in a group run.
I wonder if we runners do this more than we realize and unintentionally (or intentionally) scare others away.
And so the question I kept coming back to is: Are the tales of the transformations of Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes, and others, really motivating people to get their butts off the couch or are they seen as so different that "normal" people just dismiss them as amazing and insane freaks? Are we undermining one of our aims, to get others out there running, by claiming that these runners are just normal guys - like me and you - only they get up and do it?
I personally find them very motivating, but I'm already a runner. I understand that what they do is pretty amazing, but I don't see them as super human. I know some non-runners who do see them as just way off the charts, and I wonder what that says to them.
After a short, very well done, video about Scott and his book Eat & Run there is a panel discussion, and a Q & A segment. The panel consists of: Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Buzz Burrell, and Michael Sandrock - all well ensconced in the U.S. and Boulder running scene. There is lots of talk about the ordinariness of all these runners (all men!) and the only difference between them and me is the drive, the commitment...The strength of mind to push through and on and on when every bit of their being wants to quit.
Many years ago, when I fashioned myself a 'serious' rock climber, a friend sat across a table from me at the Boulder Theater before the start of the Banff Film Festival and revealed to me the secret to success. She said she had decided to "make the commitment" to climbing. She decided to quit doing the jobs that took valuable time away from her deepest passionate pursuit. She decided to climb full-time. All I could think was some smart-ass, sarcastic comment like, "nice work if you can get it", but I decided to make nice, smile and nod. Clearly I was missing something. The assumed implication of course (and I wasn't just being super sensitive) was that I was unwilling to take the leap of faith, make the commitment, do what needed to be done. What a loser I am! The tone and tenor of her comment was clear: I just wasn't willing to do what it takes.
So as I hear Mike Sandrock claim that the difference between champions and the hoi polloi is commitment and dedication, I want to protest. Scott Jurek presents himself as just an ordinary guy (and I sense he actually believes this) who made the choice to "be something", to "do something". But the fact remains that as inspiring as his story of transformation may be, he is an outlier - He is not "ordinary" whatever that means. He is extraordinary, and all of us can be too even if we don't run and win ultramarathons.
As a self described "serious" runner - as in, I take it seriously and it's important to me even though I'm not super talented or fast - trying to balance work, family, running, climbing and all the other things that give my life meaning and balance, I find it VERY challenging to make it to organized group runs. I cobble together my crazy running and life schedule and fit the bits and pieces together as best as I can. I don't want to give up my family (though I'd be more than happy to give up work!) for running.
I may seem aloof (I have been told this throughout my life), but that's unintentional. What's going on beneath the surface is a concerted effort to find balance. We all want to belong to some degree, we all want to achieve some measure of greatness, but many of us out there are very busy doing lots of stuff other than running (gasp) and that makes it difficult. Some of the other things we do we must do - to pay the bills, to care for those who need us - and some of the other things we do we do because they enrich our lives, as running does. Having such a truncated definition of "greatness" or understanding of what it means to "be something" and "do something" seems self defeating.
Do I need to win Western States 7 times and break the course record at Badwater to "be something"? What about all of us who go to work, raise children, volunteer in our community and still run? What about those of us who wake at 4 a.m. to squeeze in some piddly miles before the rest of the house wakes?
If I believe that I have to do what Scott Jurek does to "be something" then I might as well stay firmly planted on the couch. While I admire amazing feats of athletic prowess, I don't think I want to live in a world full of such single minded individuals. I understand that that level of obsession is usually necessary for so-called "greatness" but perhaps we're undermining other larger goals by focusing exclusively on this notion of greatness. So-called "ordinary" folks can achieve their own greatness, whatever that means to them - it may be running that first mile or 5k. But let's face it - Running is just running! Wait - did I just say that? I hope that others will realize that you don't have to run 100 miles to be something.
But then I am preaching to the choir here.
I know that I have found fulfillment. I have an object in life, a task ... a passion.
- George Sand