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Wall Street Journal opinion column annoys runners and more

Laura McDonald at Starbucks after wearing a t-shirt from a local 5k race.
Laura McDonald

When Laura McDonald read Chad Stafco's opinion piece ("OK, You're a Runner. Get Over It") in the Wall Street Journal last month, she was more than a little annoyed. Mr. Stafco's article puts down runners, especially those who run marathons and display their pride with bumper stickers or t-shirts. The main idea was that many runners are self absorbed narcissists who like to draw attention to themselves and their athletic feats.

Laura works as the Denver Music Examiner, but running has been her passion since high school. She races nearly every weekend, everything from 5ks to marathons, and she'll be participating in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Offended by Mr. Stafko's article, Laura composed the following response to share with the runners and the haters.

Mr. Stafko,

This is a picture of me at Starbucks wearing a shirt from a 5k I did several months ago. That makes me one of the runners you addressed in your eloquent op-ed last week. But contrary to what you think, I didn’t wear the shirt because I wanted people to be impressed with my running skills. I put it on because it was at the top of my workout pile and its Dryfit technology makes it a perfect shirt to run in. I didn’t spend the day parading around the city hoping people would see my shirt, and I’m also not self-centered enough to think that even if they did happen to look closely enough to read it, they would even care. I wore it for a run and then stopped at Starbucks on my way home because I was cold and tired. I don’t think a single person in the coffee shop even looked at me or my sweaty shirt.

I have a countless number of race shirts, from 5ks all the way up to marathons, and I wear them often. Most of them I wear because, well, I own them and they are great for working out. Some of them I do wear with more pride than others, as do many runners- and why shouldn’t we? Finishing a race of any distance is an accomplishment, no matter how fast the time or if an award was received. To knock someone for being proud of a personal athletic feat such as a running is unnecessary and strange. I do not understand the allure of Cross-fit; nothing about at a “Pure Bar” class interests me; and I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pole dancing class. But I would never mock nor chastise others for finding the activity or sport that inspires them to get out there and be healthy.

Your article offended me last week, but it’s not me I’m worried about. What about the kid who grew up thinking they would never run at all, let alone a 5k or a marathon? What about the person whose doctor ordered weight loss to prevent heart attack or death? What about the person who was hit by a car and was told they’d never walk again? What about the person who runs to raise money for cancer research because they lost a child too soon to the disease? You see, what you don’t seem to understand about running, is that every runner has a unique story. Every runner has something that drags them out of bed at 5:00 am to sneak in miles before work, or to head out in the dark after a long day at the office. Every race shirt that infuriates you so, contains a special meaning, a grand tale- and it isn’t to make you or anyone else feel jealous or mad.

My boyfriend Alex is a runner--a fast runner. He has run ten marathons, all of them in the past six years after he was diagnosed with cancer. Running not only keeps him in shape and relieves the anxiety of dealing with a medical nightmare every day, running keeps him alive. It is the light at the end of his tunnel, his motivation for fighting, and his lifeline when times get tough. In his words, “As long as I am running, I know I can’t be close to dying.” Alex suffered a heart attack during the 2012 Los Angeles Marathon. Miraculously he survived and, against doctors’ orders, ran another one within weeks of his hospitalization. He wears that LA Marathon shirt as a reminder that he will not give in and is outrunning cancer, and outrunning death. Would you tell Alex to ‘get over it’?

A fantastic young woman that I used to babysit for, Christie, was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis seven and a half years ago. Overcome with pain as her joints essentially attacked themselves and waking up some mornings not even wanting to get out of bed, doctors told her she would never be able to run a marathon. Last month, she ran 26.2 miles at the Marine Core Marathon- and she ran them fast. She had never felt better, but it didn’t come without hard work, dedication, and a sheer desire to overcome the odds. You should have seen her face as she crossed the finish line, knowing that she had proved everyone wrong and that running was the tool she used to do it. She wears her marathon race shirt as a reminder that she can do anything she puts her mind to. Would you tell Christie to ‘get over it’?

One of my best friends Meredith recently discovered the joy of running. After a series of 5k races, she is ready to move on to a 10k. We are racing together next month. On Saturday, she ran six miles straight for the first time ever. She was absolutely elated, experiencing the “runner’s high” for the first time in her running career. You should have seen how excited she was talking about her run, and how proud I was of her accomplishment. After she crosses that finish line in December at her very first 10k, she will wear that race shirt as a reminder that she set a goal, worked hard, and did what it took to achieve it. Would you tell Meredith to ‘get over it’?

As for me, I’m a healthy, happy veteran runner. I’m not sick or battling an insurmountable obstacle. I don’t have a story of overcoming adversity to become the runner I am today. I do it because I love it- I love the way it helps me clear my head and reduce stress, I love the way it keeps me healthy and fit, and I love the way it allows me to fuel my competitive nature. As of a few years ago, my running took on a new meaning- it is a way for me to think about and connect with my mom, who was stolen from us by cancer. My mom wasn’t a runner, in fact she thought I was crazy for competing in marathons. She cried when I crossed the finish line of my first one, both of my feet covered in blood, vomiting, sobbing and hyperventilating at the same time, barely able to stand. She, like you, didn’t understand my obsession with running. But she, unlike you, supported me every step of the way. She came to every race, made signs to encourage me, and cheered louder than everyone else. And she was always waiting at the finish line to take care of me no matter what kind of shape I was in. Now when I run, I imagine her along the course, screaming my name, and telling me to never give up- in running and in life.

Runners don’t run because they want other people to see them. On the contrary, I do my best to destroy any pictures taken of me after a certain point in a race, when my head tilts to the side, my shoulders and arms rise to ear level, my feet barely leave the ground, and the look of snarled pain in my face frightens those around me. Runners run because it is a challenge. Running forces us to test the limits of the mind and the body, the heart and the soul. Running allows us to fulfill a passion and reach for a dream, long after our high school or college sporting days are over. Running is an addicting hobby that also happens to keep the body in great physical condition, warding off illness and ailments that otherwise would inhabit us. Running allows us to see the world, travel the country, or even discover our own neighborhoods. Running allows us to quietly set goals and achieve them, proving we can push ourselves to heights we never imagined, all outside the confines of work, money, and school. While there are certain things that bond all runners together, every runner has their own motivation, their own driving force, their own reason for running- very few of which involve wanting other people to see them run, observe their race shirts, and be impressed like you suggest.

Are runners a proud people? Absolutely. And we have every right to be. Articles like yours affirm that what we are doing as runners is not for everyone. We do not think we are better than non-runners. But we do know we are better people because of our sport because running makes us better versions of ourselves. What we learn when we lace up and hit the pavement- perseverance, focus, drive, fight- we apply to our everyday lives to improve who we are as humans. Running takes heart, determination, dedication, and so much more- running takes guts.
So display your 0.0 bumper sticker with pride Mr.Stafko. I don’t know what made you so angry at our sport in the first place. You couldn’t have tried running and failed, because there is no failure in running. Anyone who puts one foot in front of the other, regardless of speed or distance, is a winner in our book. When we see your bumper sticker we won’t be annoyed or angry. We won’t knock you for not being a runner. There will just be a quiet understanding among us that you simply don’t have the guts to be a runner.

Laura McDonald

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