Yesterday, I was sent a blog by a fellow 50 State Club member. While I usually read lots of interesting and wonderful blog posts, this one was disturbing: its primary purpose was to attack another marathon runner who allegedly cheated in a race a few years ago.
Cheating in a race is a pretty serious offense, and I won’t defend Dane for doing so if that’s what happened (though I really doubt it given what I know of Dane). However, in attempting to disparage Dane, the blog authors also wrote a post called 52 marathons in a year is not that great an accomplishment. It’s this post that’s left me highly offended and upset, as it attacks anyone who’s proud of themselves for running marathons. The thesis of the post: “52 marathons in 52 weeks… was not that hard to do, as long as you have deep pockets.”
Longtime readers of my blog remember when I was about a dozen marathons into my 50 state quest and was laid off from my job. I was fortunate enough to find a new one, but in a down economy, no job was paying at the level of my previous one, and a large part of why I took a job working for an airline was because it would help me with the financial part of my quest. Yes, running marathons can be very expensive (especially with the travel), but there are ways to make it affordable (see my post on airfare tips), and my understanding from the president of the 50 states club is that I managed to do it for about half the average cost. You could run all 50 states far more cheaply than I did it, so I really resent the implication that running the 50 states is primarily a question of money – that’s not even the half of it.
I DO think it’s a big deal to run 52 marathons in a year, and I find this line especially offensive: “All it takes is money for travel and supportive family/spouse/significant other. It does NOT take awesomeness.” From my experience, it takes a lot more than money and supportive friends and family. It takes a lot of dedication and other sacrifices to go on the road for that long and always be running. No matter how much you love running, it’s not always fun and games to spend all your free time traveling to and from another race, pushing your body to run for hours, and traveling home… all before returning home to a demanding job. It took a huge toll on me just to do 50 states in 2 years, but that’s even less than Dane did, and he’s being crucified for being proud of his accomplishment. According to this post, I shouldn’t have even bothered running all 50 states because it’s something anyone can do.
In fact, I have always said that anyone CAN do what I did, and I’ve always acknowledged that other people have done exactly what I did (and even faster and better than I did it). However, while I think anyone is capable of running a marathon, not that many people have put forth the effort to go out of their way and do it. There is a big difference between being able to do something and actually doing it, and that to me is what separates a truly successful person from a dreamer.
On a completely non-running related tangent, I started college as a theater major before deciding that quite honestly I was too risk-averse to pursue that as a career. I switched to business, and five years later, one of my scene partners from freshman year became a supporting lead in the original cast of the Tony award winning Broadway musical Spring Awakening. A few years earlier, we were deemed equals, but he did the hard work and really “made it” on Broadway. So if I presumably could have done the same thing, does that mean his accomplishment means nothing? Absolutely not – he worked his butt off and made a lot of sacrifices to land that role, and he deserves all the accolades he got. Just because you could hypothetically do something doesn’t mean that it’s not an accomplishment when someone goes out and does it.
When you get to the comments on the post, you get to one that’s written by one of the authors, which says “Any plodder can go out and jog 26.2 miles every weekend. It is not easy to run sub 2:30 for the same distance.” I was proud of myself for running all 50 states, but according to this post, because I wasn’t fast, it doesn’t mean anything. Could I have run faster if I had run fewer marathons? That’s something I always wonder, but it’s worth pointing out that my fastest marathon time was set at my third marathon in 8 days – it may be that the frequency actually helped my body to be used to the distance and therefore push farther. I’m really not sure; however, I don’t think marathon time is the only measure of how accomplished you are as a runner.
The post really knocks people who talk about their accomplishments, saying, “None of us have ever did an expo ‘talk’ where we pontificated about how awesome we were. ” This part really makes me worry. I’ve spoken at an expo before – was it about “how awesome I was”? I don’t know. I talked about my experiences going from 0 to 26.2 to doing that 50 times, and I hope I portrayed it in a down-to-earth, non-bragging way. But I’ve heard Dane speak before (admittedly, a few years ago), and it didn’t seem to be any different than what I’ve done. On the promotional front, I write this blog, which is honestly a bit self-indulgent. What I write about is just my daily life, which I know is not any more special than anyone else’s daily life. Is that conceited of me to write about it in a public forum and hope that readers are interested? Does everyone in the running community believe that I think I’m better than everyone else because of my blog or the talks I’ve done? I really hope not, but this post makes me worried what people think about me.
I was recently invited to speak at a wellness conference this fall, and I am really pumped about the opportunity to share my story and encourage other people to pursue their own goals. But now this post makes me second guess my accomplishment. I’ve had many people tell me they enjoy hearing my story, and I absolutely love when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to take up running or train for a marathon or even do all 50 states. When I pace or when I speak, I encourage everyone to just give it their best. There are many people who are far better than I am at running, but I believe my achievement isn’t in being the best; it’s in doing something that for me was seemingly impossible. I pushed past my limits and I came out better for trying. I think that’s a story that many people can relate to, and the feedback I’ve generally gotten has been positive.
I believe everyone should push themselves to their limits and can be proud when they have done so, whether that means finishing a marathon in 2:30 or finishing a 5K in an hour. Both can be significant accomplishments, and if the person was a good enough speaker and could convey why it was significant for them, I’d love to listen to the latter just as much as the former. Unfortunately, the authors of this post call me a “self-promoting aggrandizer” if I dare to speak about my achievement when I wasn’t the best or the only one to do it. I think I am a winner just for finishing (isn’t that why we all get medals at the end?), and for this blog to deny that is exactly the opposite of the running spirit.