A couple of weeks ago I was getting ready to run on the treadmill at my gym when I overheard two men laughing about the circuit weights behind us.
One of them said something about how it was a gimmick that made people feel good about themselves but wasn’t ‘real’ weight lifting. The other gentleman responded by saying people couldn’t get stronger if they relied on ‘training wheels.’
This, I thought, is why I hate going to a gym.
People look around and make judgments without appreciating where someone is coming from, what they’ve overcome or where they’re going.
A few days later, I realized, it wasn’t an attitude found just at the gym.
I was talking with a running friend who said he didn’t understand why runners would want a medal for a 5K. Maybe, I said, because they weren’t sure they could run 3.1 miles.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “Would you be proud of a medal from a 5K?!”
“It depends,” I said. “Why do you care, if you don’t run 5Ks?”
He said he was tired of all the pseudo-races that tried to sugarcoat a sport where suffering was critical to the transformative experience. “A lot of people are running around feeling like they accomplished something, but they really just paid for a trophy.”
I felt so much frustration, I wasn’t sure which aspect of the argument bothered me most.
“How would you know about their suffering?” I asked.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the sport is that it meets a person wherever they are.
And why can’t ‘sugar’ (also known as fun) be part of a challenging experience?
The reality is that mocking people who can’t or don’t seek challenges the way you do isn’t just ignorant, it’s arrogant. It misses the real beauty of sports, which is that if you stick with it, you will evolve. That kind of thinking makes you blind to the beauty and joy that comes right along with that suffering.
I know because 12 years ago, I didn’t know if I could run a 5K. In fact, I remember the race where I ran a 5K without stopping.
It was a small race at Sugarhouse Park that was raising money for a foundation that helped parents deal with the loss of a child. It was my birthday and I’d been running 5Ks with a friend for a couple of months.
Well, to be accurate, we’d been using 5Ks as a way to visit while getting a bit of exercise. But for some reason, as we prepared for this race, I told myself I wanted to see if I could run the entire race without stopping.
If I’m honest, it was a pivotal moment for me.
It was the day I realized that running could be more than a way to stay in shape or connect with friends.
It could be a reason for me to challenge myself, for me to discover new strength and to develop more confidence.
I didn’t know then what this new hobby would lead to, how it would change my life – personally and professionally.
If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have accepted an invitation to run the first Ragnar Relay (Wasatch Back). It was during that race that I realized I might be able to do that marathon my sister wanted me to try.
I remember being so terrified that I might not be able to finish the marathon that I didn’t want my family to come to the race. A year later, when I ran another marathon, I ran the first half petrified that the officials driving the vans sweeping the race course were going to force me to get inside because I’d missed the cutoffs listed on the website.
And the first time I ran on a trail section of a race I fell so many times, I almost quit. It was seven miles long.
Sure, it seems silly to me now. Not because I was trying to avoid challenge with sugar or training wheels, but because I didn’t realize just how tough I was.
I underestimated myself so many times and in so many ways, it’s more embarrassing than any missed cutoff or slow finish time. I would never have learned that fear is a liar if I’d felt embarrassed about how I trained or what I hoped for at the end of a race.
The judgment of others stings, but I didn’t write this column for people who mock others for trying to find a way to live a healthier, more joyful life.Comment on this story
I wrote it for the people who felt like I did 12 years ago, the people who aren’t sure they should consider themselves runners or athletes.
It isn’t just our fear that is mean and misguided, it’s critics who know nothing about us, nor the challenges we seek. Maybe the challenge is just getting out and meeting people, maybe it’s losing weight or maybe it’s crossing the finish line first.
Whatever the reason, whatever the goal, may your journey on those sugar-coated streets be more joy than suffering, and may your training wheels never falter or fail.