Who are we to judge?

Before I ran my first marathon, a neighbor asked my husband what I was doing running up and down the greenway. “She’s training for her first marathon!” my husband answered, excited. Our neighbor paused, wrinkled his forehead in disbelief and croaked, “Run a marathon? Isn’t she too fat to run a marathon?”

Every time I go for a run, I hear those words in my head. Even after 20 marathons, they echo.

“…too FAT to run a marathon.”

There are other words that echo in my head as well. “How can you run so slow? Doesn’t it hurt?” “If you can’t finish in under 5 hours, you shouldn’t be running a marathon in the first place.” “There’s no way you can run.” “Don’t worry, you’ll get faster one day…” “Don’t call it a race if all you are doing is trying to finish…” “It’s not running a marathon unless you run the whole thing.”

The monologue is always louder near the end of a tough race. “What was I thinking? They are right. I am not a runner.”

Sometimes it’s not just words. I see you, looking at me up and down when I show up to run with your group. You don’t have to say it; I can hear it. “There is no way she can keep up. “ It’s disgusting that us large, slow runners are sullying up your sport and making it look bad. I mean, how can running a marathon be that special if SHE can do it?

Even I am guilty at times of passing judgment on my fellow runners. Sometimes I can brush it off as coaching, but when there is no genuine desire to help someone, my motives become suspect. And I have to be careful of this. If you feel compelled to criticize someone, try to imagine how you would feel if someone said the same things to you.

Why do we feel the need to judge other runners? Shouldn’t we be supportive of everyone who laces up their shoes and makes an attempt to change their lives through this sport? In a sport where only one person can ever hope to win, why criticize others who simply want to run against the clock?

Are we afraid that we will somehow become a slow runner if we associate with them? If we decide to run with a slower group one weekend, will everyone believe we are injured, or worse?  Heaven forbid if we have to ever “run slow.” Imagine the horror at being called a “WALKER!” And why do people who have never run a marathon feel entitled to tell us that we are incapable of doing one?

Critical comments often last a long time. Sometimes they last forever. Some of us use them as motivation to become better runners. Some of us quit running because of them. Before you say anything about how horrible it must be to be a “slow” runner, remember, that most of us are only one injury away becoming a “walker” or worse.

Try to remember that every runner has a story. Those of us in the back probably can tell stories of how we tried for years to exercise, to “get in shape,” while our bodies rebelled against all efforts to change. Some of us are dealing with horrible things in our lives and our weekend run is the only time we can find peace. Those in the front can whisper stories of defeat-how they trained over 100 miles a week and gave up any resemblance of a personal life, only to come in second or third, never claiming first prize. We aren’t running to please you. We are running for ourselves.

If you don’t think someone is fast enough, good enough or skinny enough to be a “runner,” perhaps you need to revise your definition of who a runner is. If you choose to not run at all rather than run with a group that you believe is too slow, try to understand why your ego is in the way of your health. There is nothing wrong with running slow or for that matter, being a walker. There is a lot wrong in not exercising at all because you are afraid of what people will think.

As we approach the middle of our training season and the start of the late start program for the City of Oaks half, remember that we are ALL runners, whether we are slow or fast, new or experienced. There will be new runners of all abilities joining us, and perhaps running their very first half marathon. It’s important to be welcoming and encouraging to them and to offer words of support, whether they are struggling to keep up or outpacing everyone.

Remember, Jeff says we cannot run too slow on our weekend runs. After my six years of running with Galloway? I think he might be on to something.