The Hunger of the Masters

The latest issue of Running Times, which I happened to pick up after Saturday morning’s run, is focused on the masters runner – runners over 40. The editor-in-chief, in his editorial, says he’s been a runner for 36 years, and had just finished a run in 16-degree weather. Okay, I can identify; I’ve had several runs this winter at that temperature or less.

No, no, not that kind of Master. (Click to see a montage.)
No, no, not that kind of Master. (Click to see a montage.)

But then he devolved into a wistful, nostalgic look back to ancient history (the 1970s) where running was, apparently, the domain of misfits and outcasts. Their desire to be accepted by some group – any group – made them, according to the writer, desperate to do well, and to run hard and long. These days, apparently, there are too many runners who don’t train as hard, because, well, running has become cool. Here’s an (edited) excerpt:

Running was honest and pure, and it was ours. We ran hard and fast because that was who we were…until we woke up one day and discovered we were masters and running had become hot; celebrities got attention for doing it and groups of buff beautiful young people got together and hugged each other while doing it. The world…got fit and had fun, but few seemed hungry.

Well, excuse us. Warn us when you’re around, and we’ll move off the trail so you don’t have to see our buff, beautiful bodies.

I’ll grant him this – running has become more popular and mainstream. Races that used to consist mainly of the hardcore fringe, like ultramarathons and triathlons, are all the rage right now. The number of events has also multiplied, and many of them, like Color Runs and themed races like the Kona Chocolate Run are aimed more at having a good time than running a fast time.

Hmmm...maybe I should investigate this event further. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Hmmm…maybe I should investigate this event further. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Well, so what? Do we need some kind of chip on our shoulder to join the cult of “real runners”? Can we be permitted to enjoy running without a need to prove something? Oh, and just because we’re not gasping our lungs out on every run, don’t assume we’re not out to improve ourselves. I have goals, and target times to reach for. That’s one reason why I’m out there on cold mornings like he is.

I’m guessing that his real regret, as he alludes to later, is the loss of his feeling of “quiet superiority based on hard-earned fitness.”  And perhaps the boast of, “I ran a marathon” doesn’t mean what it used to, with more people running them and the average finish times getting slower. But there’s a benefit, too. With running so popular, the science of running has advanced. Today we know far more about form, proper training, and nutrition that we did forty years ago, allowing us to run with more enjoyment and fewer injuries. I’ll take that over being elitist any day.

And how has our intrepid editor dealt with all this? Not to worry. As for us, we keep running. Some continue to burn with the blue flame.

My blood - is flame! I must kill you and have sex! (Click to see the famous fight scene.)
My blood – is flame! I must kill you and have sex! (Click to see the famous fight scene.)

Well, go right ahead, my friend. You run for your reasons, and I will run for mine, and let’s allow everyone else to run for theirs and not worry about whether they are as “hungry” as us.


P.S. Doesn’t “masters runner” sound a whole lot better than, “older runner,” or, heaven forbid, “senior runner”? Why don’t we apply that term more universally. For example, how could I be put out by being asked if I want the “master’s discount” instead of the “senior discount”? And I’ll bet the AARP would see a big spike in membership if it renamed itself the American Association of Masters.

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