On Nov. 12, freelance writer Chad Stafko penned an opinion piece in that august publication, The Wall Street Journal, titled "OK, You're a Runner. Get Over It." You might expect, given the reputation of the newspaper in question, that this article was a well-reasoned discussion about the growing trend of runners and why it might, or might not, present some kind reasonable criticisms. You would also be wrong.
There is only one reason running aficionados display the [ "26.2 and "13.1"] stickers. They want the rest of us to know about their long-distance feats. So let me be the first to offer my hearty congratulations. I'd even offer to give them a pat on the back—once they're done doing it themselves.
Oh and that's just the start. It seems every aspect of running is an affront to Mr. Stafko; reflective gear, early morning runs, periodicals devoted to running. Basically, it's all some sort of massive conspiracy of self-aggrandizement designed to infuriate his down-to-earth mid-western sensibilities.
(Keep in mind, this is the same writer who also recently penned an astonishingly tone-deaf article on the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins name.)
Needless to say, this little diatribe sparked a bit of a response from the running community.
The Running Media
Those who write for running publications or who pen running articles for mainstream media have been weighing in on this over the last week. Here are the highlights.
Runner's World's humor columnist Mark Remy gave Stafko a proper fisking:
I think the backlash against the author is misguided. Why? Because the language he's using, while it appears to be English, isn't. The language he's using is Bizarre Angry Rant. This is common for writers of opinion pieces at certain publications. They favor B.A.R. because it's simple, requiring little to no thought, so you can write stuff fast. The downside, of course, is that the resulting prose is often shaky and incoherent. And angry-sounding.
Chrissy Horan of The Boston Globe also examined the arguments in Stafko's piece but set the snark aside in her response.
It is worth pointing out that there is still an obesity epidemic in this country and there are many health benefits to being physically active. The fact that 15.5 million less people are not sitting on the couch watching TV is a REALLY good thing.
Mark Fraioli at Competitor.com penned an open letter to Stafko offering to foot the bill for the writer to take up the sport:
Let's be honest: Running is a selfish endeavor - we all have our own reasons for getting out the door - but it's also one of the largest, most encouraging and supportive communities of people you'll ever meet. I welcome - and encourage - you to be a part of it, rather than rail on a bunch of people who are doing something positive for themselves, and more often than not, for other people and the communities they call home.
Kevin Helliker offered a rebuttal in the pages of The Wall Street Journal who started the whole mess by publishing Stafko's piece to start with:
The enormous popularity of Stafko's essay confirms a long-standing sense I've had that many Americans are annoyed by public displays of fitness. I've never owned an expensive car or million-dollar home. But fitness-induced annoyance strikes me as similar to the resentment that symbols of wealth can provoke. In a nation grown fat, fit is the new rich. Among fitness have-nots, there's a simmering distaste for runner smugness, perhaps even a desire to see runners trip and fall.
Susan Lundsberg had this reply in The Dallas Morning News' SportsDayDFW blog:
Mr. Stafko, if I can give you any advice, move away from your laptop and volunteer at the next road or trail race near you. Hell, even run it. I'll give you a sticker. Don't judge people. You have no idea what is going on in that person's world. But I'll tell you what, if a runner knew, they would help.
Of course there are a lot of runners who have their own sites and blogs devoted to their avocation who have seen fit to have their say as well. This is a by-no-means comprehensive sampling:
Runner's World columnist and professional runner Lauren Fleshman:
I take the same approach to spreading the love of running that many people I admire take with religion. Do less pushing and do more living. Live an open, magnetic life according to your values and I figure it will naturally attract people who are ready and receptive to it. The second thing is reminding myself that a lot of the life enhancement I get from running is less about actually pounding the pavement and more about having a passion.
Shannon at Badass Fitness:
Most of all, we run because it makes us feel good. We run because we don't give two craps what someone like you think. In fact, we think a ranting column like yours is kind of amusing. Like a little kid lecturing adults on manners.
Amy at Twenty Six Point Two:
I guess the op-ed was supposed to be funny? And as a runner, of course I am biased, but I just don't see how runners....just running, wearing race shirts, and having a number sticker on their car are so offensive to non-runners?
Kelly at I am Running This:
If you've found something that you love, that brings you joy, that's healthy and harmless, I hope you do advertise it. Get people thinking about it, show that it's an interest of yours and answer questions if a beginner approaches you. Get yourself a t-shirt proclaiming that you knit, or you're a tennis freak, or you think rock climbers are some of the most awesome people ever.
Alissa at Content but not Complacent:
But I also felt bad for the guy because I used to be him. Maybe not with that level of bitterness (I hope?), but I didn't understand runners and why they ran and it seemed dumb to run "for fun" as opposed to if you were in mortal peril. Admittedly, part of that was jealousy over not being able to / having the discipline to do it myself
Because can something be said to have actually happened if it isn't on Twitter?
Going for a run. Just to piss off Chad Stafko. http://t.co/Npu0V6UIaQ— Dave Bartolec (@dbartolec) November 19, 2013
@WSJ @WSJopinion Some people "fulfill the look-at-me desire" by writing inflammatory articles about runners.— Tom Soisson (@thmssssn) November 14, 2013
One could argue that Chad Stafko is a genius. Everyone knows his name now.....— Dorothy Beal (@MilePosts) November 14, 2013
Bored and vaguely annoyed? Why not pick any given hobby and be a troll about it? Worked for this @WSJ oped on runners http://t.co/6h4MsCSm6l— Brian Switek (@Laelaps) November 13, 2013
"Now you know how we feel" cyclists to runners, after the Chad Stafko hate speech article— Mike Post (@PostTweetism) November 18, 2013
Dear Chad Stafko. OK, You're Not a Runner. Get Over It. Only a paranoid self-centered narcissist thinks everybody is speaking to them.— Brett (@bwelbo) November 18, 2013
Not sure why some find this piece offensive. It means runners are winning. Critical mass! http://t.co/dXt3LyYIIY— Brooklyn Running Co. (@BrooklynRunCo) November 15, 2013