Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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On Being a Poseur

If you have read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you have probably picked up on the fact that I really love running. For better or for worse, over the past three years or so running has become a HUGE part of my life. Most of my friends think of me as “the runner,” they come to me for advice on minimalist shoes, tease me about my penchant for going barefoot, and ask me when my next big race is. I spend a lot of time writing about running on this blog, or having my thoughts published elsewhere. I love being thought of as “the runner.” I also spend a lot of time running, too (strangely enough). For the last month or two my mileage has gone down, while I dedicate more of my free time and energy toward our cross-country move. And I am starting to feel the difference down to my bones.

I need to run. It’s my exercise, my escape, my reward, my alone time and my social hour. Running is where I learn the most about myself. It’s where I feel the most accomplished, and sometimes it’s where I fall the hardest. Running has renewed my self-confidence, and it has also broken my heart.

Last Sunday I lined up at the back of a pack of runners at a local 10-mile trail race, pumped full of nervous energy. The race started off really well, and for a trail run my pace was excellent. But in an unexpected turn of events, I couldn’t finish the race. At mile 7 I started to feel some pretty bad stomach cramps and I had to listen to my body and drop out. As I jogged uncomfortably toward the end of the third loop (and the porta-johns), I passed by a running friend of mine who had finished with an impressive personal record and was so kindly waiting to see me cross the finish line. It killed me to announce that I was dropping, because I wasn’t even tired yet….and also because I had spend the last year or two talking so much shop with him and others I’ve never met on Facebook, that it doubled my shame.

In my growing love for this sport, I have spent years waxing poetic with people about running, and it turns out it’s been enough to make them all believe I’m some kind of runner.

But right then I didn’t feel much like one. Instead I felt like a bit of a poseur. And I felt even more like a poseur later on that very afternoon, when I just happened to decide to sign up for my first marathon. The two events of the day were not even related in my mind. To me, a bad ten-miler today really has no bearing on a marathon that’s happening in five months. But, I can see how it may have looked sort of weird to someone else. If I couldn’t finish a ten miler today, what would motivate me to sign up for a marathon? Am I just digging myself a hole to fill with failures?

Perhaps this dude doesn’t even think of me as a poseur, who knows. But even if he does I don’t suppose it would make much of a difference to me anyway. Despite my wordy posts on the subject, at the end of the day I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me as a runner (hence my lack of hesitation in signing up for that marathon). I’m certainly not a great or talented runner, and I’ve never tried to make others think that I am. I just like to run, and that’s all the promises I’ve ever made to anyone.

But on the other hand, is signing up for something like a marathon or a 50K a promise? Is it a promise that I’ll have trained well enough to complete the race in a decent amount of time (preferably, well before the embarrassingly long cutoff time)? Are my shoe and swag reviews my promise that I’ll consistently be running 30-mile weeks? Is my signature at the bottom of an ultra-marathon application a contract that I’ll at least keep up with the runners in the middle of the pack, rather than closer to the back where I typically end up? Or am I letting my readers and my friends down if my pace is slower than 9:30, or if I drop out of a race or, god-forbid, wind up finishing dead-fucking-last?

What kind of expectation am I setting up for myself by writing an entire blog about training and signing up for all these big races? If I’m not all that great a runner in the end, is my influence on others essentially all smoke in mirrors?

Truth is, I never meant to be influential (nor do I really believe I am). It is amazing, however, whenever I hear that I’ve inspired somebody to start running, or that they became interested in barefoot running after they read an article in my blog. I’ve got nothing but confidence about my talents for writing. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was use that writing talent of mine to share my love for running (and geek out about running shoes) with my readers…whomever they are. I’ve never meant to fool anyone into thinking I’m a great ultra marathoner. I’m not. I’m a deeply flawed runner with much more will and drive than natural talent. And I happen to get a huge kick out of setting high goals and writing about how I work toward them. I make mistakes, I fall, and I write about that too. And then I set even higher goals. This blog is a documentation of my personal journey, not a sermon on great running.

So far I haven’t figured out how to turn off that feeling of fraudulence that happens every time I meet a talented runner who also happens to read my blog. Nor the feeling of injustice that comes with being reminded of how unskilled a runner I actually am, despite how much I know and love the sport. Yet none of this comes with an expectation that others should pity me or waste any time encouraging me to continue. I don’t really need encouragement to keep on running and signing up for races, and I think that’s what perplexes people the most.

I run because I want to get better at running, sure…but mostly I run just because. And whether I suck at it or not, because is enough of a reason.

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Two Runners, a Jogger and a Cry-Baby: How a Bad Advertisement Became a Good Motivator

Are you a jogger, or are you a runner?

Yeah, I know – you’ve heard the debate a thousand times before, so have I. But I’ve always been fascinated by how the question so thoroughly encompasses a social conflict as well as an internal one for many of us. And this label game is just a tiny reflection of the bigger elitism vs. cynicism picture, seen just about anywhere among groups of people. But I find it particularly interesting as it applies to the sport of running, because where you are on the scale is, really, sort of up to you.

But sometimes it can seem like it’s not up to you. Product marketing is getting shrewder and ever more marginalizing these days. And it’s starting to get personal. Pearl Izumi, for example, recently released some controversial ads that highlight the elitist end of the runner vs. jogger spectrum, like this interactive brochure, and this photo ad:

One of my favorite bloggers, VanessaRuns, wrote an article the other day that presented a favorable opinion of the ads, and then immediately felt pressure to redact most of what she said and post an apology about it. I don’t necessarily want to get into how I feel about that in this post, but I will say I am ashamed of the person who would subscribe to an intelligent, free-thinking woman’s blog, and then decide to bring an air of censorship to it the moment Vanessa writes something he or she disagrees with. It goes against everything we are as barefoot runners who live a lifestyle of tolerance, acceptance and inclusiveness.

But Vanessa wasn’t the only person who had something to say about the Pearl Izumi backlash. Jason Robillard writes that people who are offended by such advertising are just being babies (his usual logical stance, along with a teachable moment thrown in for good measure), this blurb at Fitsugar.com expresses total disgust, and Darren Rovell over at CNBC writes here that he isn’t sure what to think about it. Seems Pearl Izumi really got some attention with this ad. Which is….well, exactly what an ad is supposed to do. By definition, it is a brilliant campaign! Unlike this one, which pretends to be brilliant but is actually very stupid:

But besides being a hot button for everyone with two thumbs and an opinion, Pearl Izumi’s ad campaign can be interpreted as a call to arms for all who love to run. And I mean Really. Love. to run. Hear me out on this. Sure, at first glance it might look like a bunch of elitist bullshit written to exclude all the fatasses regular people like me who can’t run a sub 4-hour marathon (or even train for one without stopping for beer halfway through). That’s how I first reacted to it, anyway. But then as I spent more time trying to understand how I’m supposed to feel about the message, I realized it wasn’t actually excluding me at all.

Because I think of myself as a runner, and nothing in that ad takes that feeling away from me. Frankly, I kind of identify with the whole “run like an animal” thing. It’s powerful imagery, and it fits in with how I would describe my feelings about running.

What I’m saying is that how you react to this ad campaign reflects your own opinion of yourself as an athlete. Just take a minute and ask yourself: Are you one of the “runners” they’re talking about, or are you a jogger? Where do you feel you place on the spectrum? How do you describe yourself to non-runners? Do you even care what these ad guys think about your running abilities? And who are you supposed to be comparing yourself to, anyway?

And that’s what a lot of this backlash comes down to: comparisons. People routinely look at others and then look down their own deck of cards to see how it stacks up. If their own stack falls short, it can result in some bad feelings. I know, I do it all the time. And here is what being a runner looks like today in my mirror:

  • I started running 2 years ago, but before that I jogged like a moron for about 8 years
  • I run in minimalist footwear only (and sometimes barefoot)
  • I typically run between 15 and 20 miles per week
  • I run 3 to 5 days a week, but I’d run all 7 if my legs allowed
  • I have run 5k, 10k, and half marathon races
  • My longest non-race run so far has been 12 miles
  • I am somewhat overweight and generally prone to injury
  • My comfortable running pace at the moment is between 10:30 and 11:00
  • I run at my comfortable pace, or slower, about 80% of the time
  • The fastest mile I have ever timed was 8:40
  • My fastest 5K was just over 30 minutes
  • My only half marathon finish was 2:36
  • I like to always be training for a running event
  • I am currently training for a half marathon and a 50K, both in May
  • I am not sure I will finish the 50K, but it won’t stop me from trying
  • I can honestly say I run for the sake of running
  • I can honestly say I run for the beer social benefits
  • I can honestly say I run because it makes me feel like a badass

The above list of running qualifications could be considered pretty amazing, embarrassingly lame, or anywhere in between. It all depends on who’s looking, and how their deck stacks up to mine. If I hold up my cards to almost anyone in my family, many of my friends and coworkers, and roughly half of the American population, I’m an incredible athlete. To most of my runner friends? I am somewhere between average and mediocre. But I can’t even hold a candle next to the amazing ultra marathon runners that I have met and look up to, or have heard about along the way. I can’t even stand at the starting line of the same race. Because I didn’t qualify.

My point is that I can choose to compare myself to all the most elite runners and feel really bad about myself. Or I can choose to recognize how close I really am to those guys, as compared to the rest of the world who doesn’t run at all. If I choose the latter, I can still proudly call myself a runner and smile for miles. Running is always better than not running. And this is what I try to remember when I start to feel bad about my running abilities (or lack thereof).

But, sometimes it is beneficial to compare yourself to those better runners. Feeling driven to always improve yourself adds strength to your character. And that is precisely why I have decided I like the Pearl Izumi ad. Maybe you found it offensive. Hell, it was offensive. But if you have any fight in you then you’ll also recognize it as a challenge. A flaming gauntlet. An older brother standing at the top of the hill, taunting you from above:

You wanna be a runner?
Well then stop jogging around the block like a girl.
Run somewhere dirty.
Let the sweat mess up your mascara for once.
Learn to love the pain and fatigue.
Be passionate or don’t bother.
Go hard.
Push your limits.
Let yourself fail.
Sign up for a race you can’t even finish yet.
Take some goddamn risks sometimes.
…Cupcake.

Does your mind taunt you like this when you’re in the middle of a difficult run? Do you love it? Do you run to escape, meditate, relax, reflect, recharge? Do you run to get better at running? Do you feel strong, alive and invincible when you’re out there on the trail?

Yeah?

Well then what the hell are you worried about that stupid ad for?! They were talking about you!

And if you are just out there pounding pavement toward a 4 pound weight loss for your best friend’s wedding or making up for last night’s cheese pizza, then you probably don’t give a shit if someone calls you “just a jogger.” The ad wouldn’t even catch your eye anyway. And neither would this article, in fact.

So you can all relax, everybody. No one is taking away your Runner’s License. It’s still valid, and accepted everywhere your feet land. So STFU and RUN.

Now, can we talk about how Pearl Izumi just sells cushy traditional running shoes and nothing minimalist? What a bunch of wussy hobby-joggers. 🙂