Searching for the Soul of the Sport

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This week has been a turbulent one for me at work. That is not as blatantly personal of a statement as it appears though. I work for Running Times magazine which this week was purchased by Rodale and Runners World magazine. Any merger causes someone a bit of stress and runners being, well, runners, who often take their sport
(past-time, hobby, job, whatever you like to call it) quite seriously (too seriously depending on who you ask), have taken this news to heart, chewed it up the recommended 17 times and are actively engaging in constructive conversation about what all it could mean.

For some, Running Times was their internet forum of choice. For another, Running Times had fascinating articles and appropriate training plans. For the third, Runners’ World was simply the bane of their existence since they changed their philosophy and target audience quite a few years back. Others don’t admit to reading either magazine or related website but see the continuing trend of consolidation across industries as a personal attack on their sport.

I guess this was bound to happen at some point. The news was a shock to me because my job allows me the luxury of not having to deal with the business side of the operation at all. I can edit, edit, edit, crop images and fix links to my heart’s content. I can promote running-related projects I stumble across and deem interesting and mediate discussion about any kind of running, training or racing imaginable. Why would any company be interested in paying a large sum of money for such home-grown goodness (nobody wants to pay me very much for my home-grown green beans!) ?

In a discussion on the Running Times website, someone said that “it seems to me like much of the running scene is losing its soul.”

Now, I don’t think that the running scene is actually losing its soul, but when one looks at the larger picture it is certainly getting watered down. If one zooms in closer, and perhaps even heads underground, you will find that soul – back where it came from when the running underground first emerged into the sun decades ago. In the January 2007 issue of Running Times there was a photo of Phil Stewart handing out subscription flyers at the 1977 Peachtree Road Race: “Hey! You with the legs!” they read. I saw one of those flyers the last time I was in the RT Office. They were awesome – hand printed, crooked, very basic information was asked for, and you even had to find your own envelope and stamp to mail it back in order to subscribe. It was nothing that ever would have passed muster under a spotlight. But running wasn’t under a spotlight, and runners of that ilk and dedication are avoiding the spotlight once again … as it should be. Who can run enough in a spotlight?

The late Dr. George Sheehan wrote, “I run each day to preserve the self I attained the day before. And coupled with this is the desire to secure the self yet to be. There can be no letup. If I do not run I will eventually lose all I have gained – and my future with it.” Such motives wither and die if exposed to a spotlight for any appreciable length of time. If you are reading this, you are probably aware of this fact on some level. I believe it is part of the reason that our club is so connected, so cohesive, despite our broad geographic range – because we are sitting well out of the spotlight in this heavily wooded and often overlooked corner of the country. We all have our own motivation for starting to run, but at some point, those motives converge into a great love of movement and Sheehan’s desire to secure the self yet to be.

That same writer on the Running Times website (remember him, from a few paragraphs ago?) says “it appears that the more serious folks are being brushed aside as economically irrelevant,” which for the most part, seems to truly be the case. The serious runners aren’t always into purchasing fad items or glitzy anything – heck, we might even skip out on some of the Big Name Races because they are too expensive. We have been running long enough that we check the “no t-shirt” option on race registration forms and we have found the shoes, socks, sports bras and shorts that last the longest under heavy wear so that we don’t have to buy them as frequently. We will subscribe to a running magazine if and only if it fits our image of all a running magazine should be, and should it start to fall from that pedestal, we cancel our subscription immediately. And THAT’S OK!

THAT is a large part of why I like running. It is simple, basic, fulfilling in and of itself and lots of other people who value simple, basic skills, emotions and lifestyles take part in it as well.

I’ve been trying to sort out my emotions on this whole RT/RW mess for the last week and I’m certainly not decided yet. But one thing I know for sure is that MY ability to love the sport is inherent and unrelated to what articles RT publishes, what cover image RW has and even unrelated to what company I work for. Yes, things might (and probably will) change, and there is nothing I can do about that but go for a nice long run.

Katie Wolpert
February 28, 2007

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