We say lots of things, us runners, and we say them with the conviction of a late-life convert. We say it’s mind over matter. We say it’s left foot right foot, repeat. We say it’s about rest days. It’s about heart rate. It’s about nutrition. Latest fads in gear. Zero drop. k-tape. yoga? We revere everyone from monastically living vegans, to hard-partying playboys. We run seeking enlightenment and PRs, and argue whether those two things are mutually exclusive.
Running is such a broad sport, ranging from being measured in hundreds of yards to hundreds of miles. It is logical, and expected, for the disciplines within this umbrella to have differing views on training, nutrition, and focus (spiritual/mental/physical). However, it would seem that even among those training for similar distances on similar terrain, there exists a varying, and often obstinately-maintained, battle of opinions on everything from our toes to our trucker huts.
I recently saw a post in which some runners were poking fun at someone for an argument I had apparently missed, in which someone had strong feelings, and someone else had strong feelings, and someone got butthurt, and someone was like “well, bye” in their best Curly Bill voice. Because I have no clue what the argument
was, I have to give both parties the benefit of the doubt, but here is my real take away – people got into a verbal knock-down-drag-out over what is supposed to be our release, our hobby, our happy place. Why?
Recently, Karl Metzler set a FKT on the Appalachian Trail, 45 days 22 hours 38 minutes. He is 49 years old. His diet, according to a 2016 article on For the Win! sits on the healthy side of normal. It includes meats, grains, vegetables, and dairy. Previous FKT holder for the AT, Scott Jurek, follows a strict Vegan diet, which you can read about in his book, Eat and Run. As veganism excludes all animal products, this is a great shift from the Metzler diet. Still further on the spectrum, you have Dean Karnazes, who at 54 is still very active, but at one point ordered pizza on a run. Nowadays, he has traded in junk food for a paleo-style diet, heavy in fruits, veg, and bison, according to a 2015 article in GQ. Hell, in her “prime”, Jenn Shelton allegedly raced on a diet of Mt. Dew and cheese pizza.
And it’s not just diet that we don’t seem to agree on. Any runner lined up at any ultra in any state can attest to the presence of max cushioned Hokas, mail-order Asics, and huarache-inspired Lunas. I live by Altras, while my husband swears by Brooks. In training and races, runners come dressed in compression gear head-to-toe, or shirtless in silkies.
Runners come in hydration vests filled with tailwind, handhelds of water, or nothing at all. In my own small group, I’ve been advised to train under the Maffetone Method by one friend, then told to leave my watch/HR monitor at home by others.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. What I do know is that arguing over something that is supposed to bring peace and joy is stupid. My four year old son would tell me that I shouldn’t use that word, but I’m standing by it. We live in a world of too much information and too much need to be right. Our lives, and our running, are an experiment of one that we insist on pushing on the rest of the population. (Un)fortunately, that isn’t how research works. That’s not how any of this works.
Like many of you, probably, I have a decent case of impostor syndrome. I run with some really impressive athletes, which makes it that much worse. However, it also makes it better. It’s better, because I run with trail and ultrarunners. I run with people who know the personal and individual beauty that running brings to a person’s life. I got into trail running because the vibe is one of inclusion, fun, and is focused on the experience, not the results. That’s not to say that trail runners are competitive. Often, I overhear the big dogs I run with talking about their adventures across the globe and varying terrain. It sounds like a one-up competition, but each person seems in awe of the other. We look up to each other in a circle, instead of a totem pole. That circle of support and reverence allows us to cheer one another, regardless of our varying speed, altitude-acclimation, or distances run. And that is what running is all about – finding your place, and a few friends along the way.
Ultimately, there is enough comparing, judging, and general attitude of “anything you can do I can do better” in this world. Running is supposed to be a passion. Being in the woods, or the mountains is our way of escaping the unlubricated cogs of our 50 hour careers. It is our time to be ourselves instead of being parents, partners, and professionals. And when we can throw our hearts into something as pure and visceral as running, we become better versions of the above roles. Running is also a journey. If you were lucky enough to start early, and be naturally awesome, good for you. But don’t alienate those of us who found this joy late, who fight every step to do well. We love the trails just as much as you do, we just get to enjoy them for a bit longer sometimes. And that is ok.