The "Wall Street Journal" Is a Very Strange Concentrator of Strangeness Indeed: The View from
The Roasterie **La Farine** LVIII: December 19, 2013
So a couple of days back, a gentleman by the name of Chad Stafko--which apparently is his actual name, which I find awesome -- wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal titled "OK, You're a Runner. Get Over It."... Lucky for you, I studied Bizarre Angry Rant in college. I'm a little rusty, but with the help of my dog-eared Bizarre Angry Rant/English dictionary I think I can walk you through this.
Here is a rough translation of Mr. Stafko's essay. I think you'll agree, after reading this, that Mr. Stafko deserves our sympathy, not our scorn...
OK, You're a Runner. Get Over It: There is one kind of bumper sticker I see almost daily here in my small Midwestern town: a small oval printed with "26.2" or "13.1." In case you're lucky enough not to know what these numbers represent, let me explain: They indicate that the driver or someone in the car has run a marathon (26.2 miles) or a half-marathon (13.1 miles).
TRANSLATION: Things anger me. Especially when I'm driving. Though, in fairness, maybe this is because I listen exclusively to right-wing talk radio in the car.
There is only one reason running aficionados display the 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.
TRANSLATION: People put stickers on their cars. Even runners! This angers me.
What's with this infatuation with running and the near-mandatory ritual of preening about it? Almost every day I see people running: in the city, through subdivisions or out on country roads. They're everywhere and at all times, from dawn until dark, their reflective gear flickering along the road.
TRANSLATION: People run. I see people run. I guess they see me as well. Because people have eyeballs. Also, I notice runners wearing reflective gear, which is designed to be noticed. This angers me. When they're not out there sweating through the miles, they can relax with a running magazine. There is Runners World, with its 660,000 subscribers, but also Running Times, Trail Runner, Runner's Gazette and several others. Reading. About running.
I thought I was imagining this spike in running's popularity, but that's not the case. According to the group Running USA, there were some 15.5 million people who finished running events in 2012, compared with approximately 13 million in 2010. These 15.5 million are hoofing it through marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks, 5Ks, fun runs, night runs, charity runs and what can only be labeled as insane ultramarathon runs of 50 miles or more.
TRANSLATION: I can use Google.
Or these runners, when they're not running, can go shopping—at a running store. There's one such store less than 15 miles, or better said, just a bit over a half-marathon, from my house. It sells only running equipment and apparel. The store has been in business several years, so apparently it is making money.
TRANSLATION: Retail stores exist. They sell things that people want to buy. This angers me, for reasons even I cannot understand. My lack of understanding angers me further.
This "equipment," of course, is nothing but shoes and clothes. You can buy these same shoes at a sporting-goods store or online, probably for much less.
TRANSLATION: I have never once in my life tried to purchase running shoes that I actually intend to use for running from a slack-jawed teenager wearing a striped referee's shirt.
But the clothes—well, that's a different story. Many of the shirts on the racks have running logos, motivational slogans and images of stick people running.
TRANSLATION: This one time? I walked by the window display of that running store I mentioned earlier, on my way to the bank.
Like the 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers, this apparel serves a clear purpose: We can look at them and immediately know that the person wearing it is a runner—perhaps even an accomplished one.
TRANSLATION: Often, you can tell something about a person by the sort of clothing he or she is wearing.
I have several friends who are runners, or at least I did before writing this. Some have completed marathons in Nashville and Washington, D.C. One even ran the Boston Marathon.
TRANSLATION: I have friends.
A few days ago, one of these running friends said, after describing a recent run: "Why do I keep doing this?" I have no idea.
TRANSLATION: I don't understand irony.
Why would someone want to get up at 5 a.m. and run 10 miles adorned with fluorescent tape to avoid being struck by someone who has the good sense to use a car for a 10-mile journey?
TRANSLATION: I don't understand things that are not immediately apparent.
I have a theory. There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them.
TRANSLATION: People have eyeballs.
These days, people want more than ever to be seen. This is the age of taking a photo selfie and posting it on Facebook with the announcement that you're bored—in the hope that someone will "like" that information. People want attention and crave appreciation. If you're actually doing something like running—covering ground, staying healthy, almost even having fun—what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire? The lone runner is a one-person parade. Yay.
TRANSLATION: My editor asked me to include a graf that ties my rant into a broader social theme. This is the best I could do.
OK, I know, this isn't the case for all runners. Many of my friends who regularly run have done so for years, decades before there was a thing called social media to put humanity's self-absorption in overdrive. These folks also tend to be infatuated with fitness anyway. If they're not out on the streets showing the sedentary world how it's done, they're at the gym or in a spinning class.
TRANSLATION: I have friends. Honest, I do.
But what about the others? You can spot them, wandering through the mall or killing time at Starbucks, proudly wearing their "[Fill in the blank] 5K Run" T-shirts. They're getting what they want, without losing a drop of sweat.
TRANSLATION: Things anger me. Especially when I'm standing on line at Starbucks.
I saw a great new bumper sticker the other day. It read 0.0. I'll take one of those, please.
TRANSLATION: Things anger me.
Mr. Stafko is a writer living in Freeburg, Ill.
TRANSLATION: Mr. Stafko is angry in Freeburg, Ill.