Thirty years ago most avowed distance runners still retained vestiges of the sport’s flinty, outsider’s origins. We were a congregation of pain seekers bonded by the depth and quality of our gut-wrenched racing performances. How hard you trained, and fast you ran, were blistered badges of pride held up against society’s more traditional conventions of convenience. Revolutions of the local high school track were regarded with more respect than the arc of one’s career track. Today, those times and that image have long given way to a spirit of tempered inclusion where running serves as a universal bond of health and community involvement. Or does it?
Running USA staged its annual conference this month in Houston in connection with the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. As a member of the Running USA board of directors, I had occasion to reach out to members of the running community to voice their observations (anonymously, to avoid recriminations) about the state of the sport. The following perspective comes from a former race director, club organizer, and current running world vendor.
“Here in our little world I have been involved with our running club for over 20 years, and I’ve seen a marked difference in engagement by the runners over time. New runners don’t know common etiquette. It used to be that you could call out for help of any kind and lots of runners would raise their hand and say, ‘I can do that’. Now it feels like there is much more of a ‘so-who’s-going-to-throw-the-next-great-event-for-me’ type of attitude.
Likewise, I’ve been involved with a local trails organization, a terrific ‘professional’ non-profit with a true working board and paid staff. It raises millions of dollars, creates both wooded and urban trails, raises non-motorized transportation issues within the community, grooms cross country ski trails, etc. They seem to have a lot of hands-on support from the biking and hiking communities, but they traditionally don’t get a lot of hands-on support from runners.
I don’t think our area has a lock on selfish runners (sorry for the negative bent here) as I suspect we are just a microcosm of the national scene. My point here is that runners just don’t seem to be as engaged outside of their next run or when they are out of Gu packets, yet any cyclist always seems to know what Lance had for breakfast yesterday. The numbers (and dollars) are with the numbers of runners at races all over this country (a positive), but I don’t think any solution will be found for running’s ills until we find a way to truly engage the masses.
It starts with a goal and a direction. There are lots of great ideas out there, but as we consider these great ideas every discussion should include the question, ‘how does it engage the masses?’
Just some musings for a Tuesday morning. Have a great day.
Thanks to today’s guest for the observations. If you’d like to add yours, either respond below, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.