On Running and Respect

Woman Running On A Mountain Road At Summer Sunset

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow runner this fall. She was a more serious runner than I, cranking out impressive race times, remaining focused on nutrition, coaching other runners and even helping to host races and events.

Eventually, the conversation turned to race experiences and how a participant’s experience is likely to vary — widely — based on his or her pace. (A couple of really interesting accounts on this can be found here and here — and yes, I’ll probably address this another time.) She shared an emotional tale about helping the announcer of a recent half marathon as a woman came pushing down the last little quarter mile or so just after the time cutoff, and how they kept it open and continued announcing for her as she crossed the finish line while her friends and family cheered. I think we both teared up a bit as she explained how this woman fought for every step. Yes, she was slower than the average runner in that race, but it didn’t mean she didn’t work just as hard to achieve her goal. She gave it everything she had.

And then, as a way of showing contrast, she mentioned how troubled she was by how many women — even women who run fast — show up at races in tutus and sparkly skirts. “Respect the sport, you know?” she said.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation, and the thing is, I guess I don’t know. Which is probably why my immediate response was to say, “Hmmm …” and order another glass of wine while changing the subject.

Running — and races — mean vastly different things to different people. Is running to burn calories a less worthy goal than running to achieve a PR? And is running to win your age group “better” than both of those? What about running to spend time with friends or to get outside with your dog or just because it feels good to do it?

And! Does running in a skirt or tutu or leg warmers or a shirt with a funny phrase change any of the above?

In my mind, I don’t think it does. I think that, if you can complete a race in the amount of time stated by the race directors (and, you know, aren’t a jackass to your fellow racers), you can wear just about anything you want. Hell, some of those goofy outfits have put a much-needed smile on my face during a tough race.

I’ve shared some of my thoughts on race etiquette in the past, though, so clearly I have my own ideas about what “respecting the sport” means. But this conversation made me curious — it’s far from the first time I’ve heard someone say something like this, and, in fact, I’ve had some pretty big debates with some of my running friends on the topic, so I know there are several schools of thought.

What does “respect the sport” mean to you? Does it mean giving it your all? Does it mean dressing a certain way? Does it mean running (or doing whatever sport this applies to for you) alone rather than with people? Don’t be shy — tell me how you really feel. I promise to respect your opinion! Kristen

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  1. RFC says:

    This is a great and highly debatable topic. (Thank you for linking to my post by the way!) I’ve seen people in tutus WIN races, and I’ve seen people wearing 100% athletic gear, following race day etiquette to a tee. BUSTING THEIR ASSES to set a PR, and still coming in last or nearly last place. I think the most wonderful thing about the sport of running is that it is highly individual. Short of someone tripping you, your performance is based on YOUR effort and no one else. I don’t see funny outfits as disrespecting the sport, there are far greater issues to worry about (banditing, trashing the course …especially trails, cheating, showing up to a difficult race completely unprepared and untrained, etc). As a fitness professional, I’m THRILLED to see people get off their butts and MOVE, regardless of their motive. If tutus and funny t shirts are what motivate them to get out there, then good. The obesity and inactivity epidemic runs so rampant in our society that I think nit-picking over whose outfits “respect” the sport and whose don’t is pretty silly. Just my two cents.

  2. Stephanie says:

    RFC – LOVE your comment.

    If you are out there enjoying yourself, and obeying the laws/rules of the race, location, whatever, why are we getting so uptight about it? I would never wear a tutu to a race, but that’s because it’s not my style in my general life, not because I think it disrespects the act of running. I will never win a race (and probably won’t ever come in last), but I know people who have done both, and they both deserve a cheer when they cross the line.

    Are you doing an activity that you like or makes you feel better? Then keep on keepin’ on.

  3. Anna says:

    Running is an individual sport that unites the world. I’ve run races of different sorts on a few continents, and I see tutus, costumes and neon everywhere, along with the greatest and most ridiculous spectators shouting encouragement. With the goofy, I have always seen an overwhelming number of people who are congenial sportsmen/women who are friendly, welcoming and genuinely love what they are collectively setting out to do. We shouldn’t let the way someone else chooses to show enthusiasm ruin our run or the amazing atmosphere at a race.
    Respecting the sport, to me, means appreciating that we are able to run freely and as far as we can, and being proud of our and the running community’s accomplishments.

  4. I would disagree that the furor over people wearing tutus in races is a great and debatable topic. I’d characterize it as a petty one, but one that illustrates some fairly grave societal ills.

    There is, in our culture, some overall inherent sympathy for those who are victims. Recently (at least to my perception) there has been a growing movement to co-opt this sympathy by portraying oneself as a victim when no such victimhood exists–thus the people who claim that they are suffering the most grave form of intolerance when their intolerance isn’t tolerated. Maybe calling it a movement isn’t the right term–I doubt it’s anything so formal as all that. But one impact of it (whether intended or not) is to deligitimize actual and heinous forms of victimhood by equating them to the suffering of such trivialities as being called a liar when you’re lying or being called a jerk when you’re being a jerk.

    How horrified was your horrified fellow runner, really? It seems ludicrous to be horrified by another’s fashion choices in any context, given that fashion is inherently a social construct with no objective right or wrong. It’s even more bizarre in specialized contexts such as running races, since the specialized, state-of-the-art gear that may give one an edge there would be considered absurd anywhere else.

    I suspect she was more being offended by the tutus in order to be offended, to seize the perverse boost in sympathy and therefore status afforded to those who portray themselves, rightly or wrongly, as victims. This is, sadly, one excellent way to boost one’s personal profile in a given field.

    From a moral standpoint, however, just because an opinion exists doesn’t mean that it is valid. I think the proper response to someone who is pretending that they are being somehow injured if another person runs a race in a tutu is to point out that they are being a jerk, and then never pay attention to them again.

  5. Lisa says:

    I’m not a runner, but I love the debate. When in doubt, twirl. And if you love a tutu, or a super cape, or cat leggings then run in them because you’ll be running with a smile on your face and that’s the most important accessory.