On this particular rainy Sunday, we ventured over just to check some things out. But like most addicts, I couldn't leave the store without a purchase. One thing that caught my eye was a perfectly-sized oval car decal. You know the kind. "13.1". Not too big, not pink, not an eye-sore. Just perfect. Only $2!
I actually abstained from buying it because I wanted to buy two exactly the same, and they only had one. (I did, however, get a water bottle and a new singlet.) I decided to find some online. In my search, I came across an interesting debate. Apparently, there are people out there who believe that runners or tri-athletes who post distances on their cars are 1) show-offs, or 2) weak. One poster even claimed they were personally offended by such stickers.
Now, most of the people who have posted these sorts of blogs aren't runners themselves. They may play other sports, but they have little understanding of long-distance running. They claim a Half Marathon is just that - half a race. "Why post that you quit at the halfway point?" they sneer. Or worse yet, "Real distance runners laugh at Half Marathon stickers; 13.1 is nothing." This vitriol (and believe me, some of it was really hateful, which is why I won't post the links to the sites here) was shocking at first, and then disheartening. Would people judge me if I stuck a 13.1 sticker on my car, after only finishing one Half, and in a time I wasn't pleased with? Was I weak, or show-offy, or lame?
Here's the thing: I love seeing those stickers. Seeing them is like seeing a runner on your way home from work; it's motivating and makes you feel like you've seen a soul common with your own. You feel an instant connection. You think: ah, look! Another of the tribe!
As many commented on the posts, we shouldn't judge people for these stickers. Even a 5k sticker means something to the person who put it on there. These stickers aren't about bragging; they're about tipping your hat to fellow runners. It's like a secret handshake, a welcome sign...sometimes, even, just proclaiming a way of life. It's akin to having a political sticker, a band name, or a stick-figure family on your car. It states, "This is important to me; it is part of my identity." If you're going to put a sticker on your car in the first place, you'll probably offend someone in doing so. Running distance stickers seem so innocuous in the grand scheme of things.
People also pointed out that a Half isn't half a race. It takes a different kind of training and strategy to complete than a full marathon, or a triathlon.
Veteran runners should understand and remember that we all start somewhere. The runners who want to tear down those who are still working up to their goal distance are missing the point, and clearly don't want to be part of this beautiful, competitive, encouraging family. I will never understand runners like that. I would never scoff at a 5k sticker, because completing that race/distance must mean a lot to that person if they bothered to put it on their car.
I remember the days when completing a mile without walking was a pipe dream, never to be attained, and cannot fathom laughing at someone for being proud of a 5k. Moment of humbling honesty here: I am still proud when I finish a 5k.
I want a 13.1 sticker for a few reasons. 1) Because I ran one, darn it! 2) Because I want to get to the point in my running where Halfs are my usual race goal; it would be motivation for this new way of life. And finally, 3) to offer a little salute to those other runners who, seeing the sticker, will feel a jolt of recognition, pride, and solidarity upon seeing it.
As for the negative voices...well, if they need to tear others down to make themselves feel good, then I guess they're running for way different reasons that I am. More power to them, but it seems an exhausting and miserable way to live life. It seems a heavy burden to carry during a long run, that's for sure.
I say, if you want a distance sticker, and you ran that distance...get it! You don't need to explain yourself to those who don't get it, and it may serve to encourage those who do.