You Are Better Than Me, Therefore You Are Good
I ran cross-country and track in college. Not to brag (the typical disclaimer people make before making a borderline braggy statement) but I am somewhat fast. For whatever reason, I can run for long distances at a reasonably fast pace for moderately long periods of time. I’m not qualifying for the Olympics anytime soon, but I do alright.
Running is a sport that tends to elicit a lot of questions. What’s the farthest you’ve ever run, how often do you run, do your legs hurt, why would you want to run for fun, etc. When you tell someone you do cross-country or track, they get awful inquisitive. By far the most popular question, though, is the “How fast can you run a mile?” inquiry. At some point, whether through an athletic team, a gym class or whatever, most people have been forced to run a timed mile. More often than not, these times are pretty poor. However, people love to compare their own mile times with mine. These people will usually ask about my mile time, I’ll respond, and they’ll say something like “Oh my God! My best time is 12 minutes. You’re fast!”
So I guess my question is, why do people do this? What is it about running that elicits these needless comparisons? Why do people constantly attempt to validate my own speed by comparing it to their own, as if the fact that I am faster than they are somehow makes me a serviceable athlete? I can’t think of another sport where this happens. The closest I could come up with is a fan asking a pitcher how fast his fastball is, than responding with “Wow, I can only throw 35 mph. You must be a great player!”
I think that one of the main reasons this happens is the universal nature of running. Regardless of whether you’ve done marathons or you simply run once a month on a treadmill, running is something that every single person on Earth has done (or at least attempted to do). This isn’t the case in a sport like golf or badminton. So when people find out you run, it’s natural to try to draw comparisons to their own experience.
The second reason is that, sadly, many people do not take running seriously. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people make the “running isn’t a sport” argument. I’d like to see one of these so-called athletes go through a workout with me, and we’ll see who the real athlete is. I digress though. The point is that people tend to not view running as something that you really “practice.” The average person cannot even fathom why a track team would need a coach, aside from providing supervision. “Don’t you just go out and run around?” is a popular sentiment. Thus, because they don’t recognize the hours of hard work and the ultra-specific workouts that go into training for a race, they are just looking at your mile time as something you just happened to run one day, not as an event that the athlete has spent months preparing for. Which is actually kind of flattering in a way, but I wish that people were a bit more educated on everything that goes into the sport.