“You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't You?”  -Carly Simon

Earlier today, I happened to stumble across another congratulatory article about the benefits of running, especially marathon running. This one explained how true success was primarily a result of “grit”, and how marathon runners exemplify the qualities that make up “grit”.

Grit, it appears, “is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” and “stamina, both mental and physical”. Marathoners are credited with those qualities in spades, though the article doesn’t make it clear whether marathoning helps develop those attributes, or if those attributes are inherent in people who gravitate to running. Perhaps it’s both. But either way, marathon runners are pretty clearly a special bunch, primed for success in life.

Maybe so. I’m a marathon runner, so I’d like to think that marathon running automagically makes me an amazing person.

Certainly, the qualities that make up “grit” are useful, but to imply they’re unique to marathoners is just self-aggrandizement. “Grit” can appear anywhere, in poets or auto mechanics or, yes, even marathoners. Admitting that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of running a marathon.

The fact is that there are plenty of people, including runners, without enough grit to sand down balsawood. A marathon runner can also be someone overly obsessed about what others think about their race time or their weight, or someone who spends hours running to escape from dealing with their family, their job situation, or other problems in The Real World.
The ability to run a marathon doesn’t even mean you’re exceptionally healthy. All the studies I’ve seen say the major health benefits of running accrue with moderate exercise. 45 minutes to an hour three or four times a week is all anyone needs. Long distance running might make you fitter, assuming you don’t get hurt, but it’s a specialized sort of “fit”, nothing that weight lifters or football players would care much about.

It’s natural to form groups with like-minded people. There’s comfort in spending your time with people who share your values, your beliefs about what’s fun and important. That’s especially true for distance runners, who spend 8-12 hours of their limited free time every week training for a marathon. There’s not a lot of time left over to spend hanging out with people who don’t run.

But you have to watch out for the echo-chamber effect. When you spend a lot of time with people who agree with you, in a safe zone that reinforces what you believe, it can be hard when those beliefs are questioned. Never forget that not everyone shares the values of your group.

If someone challenges your values, it’s natural to get defensive, but try to keep from overreacting. Jokes about Jim Fixx’s heart attack (“and Keith Richards still lives!”), getting hit by a car (“Q: What do you get when you run in front of a car? A: Tired”), or the value of running 26.2 miles only to finish in 18958th place wouldn’t hurt if they didn’t carry some truth. Try to remember that, and try to remember that to someone who’s not a runner, the jokes can honestly be funny. That person might just be trying to share a laugh about your hobby with you.

Or maybe they ARE an asshole, but that’s not your problem.

We all run for our own reasons. There’s no need to justify running by crediting running with some unique mystical essence that it probably doesn’t really have. I run because I like it, and that’s enough for me.

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Ray Charbonneau writes a lot about running, but this article isn’t just about running, is it? He also writes about time-traveling demons and aliens who do improv. Check out his books and more at y42k.com.