All One Pack:  Beyond Us and Them in the Running Community

As I listen to the news, a single message is growing louder. On every scale, we shout about differences: “us” and “them.” I long to reconnect with our unifying humanity, to find common ground that includes compassion and respect.

Cheers to the Running Community

Especially given current events, I value the inclusive spirit of the running community.  People with diverse educations, professions, political views, religious beliefs, and personality types come together to run. We share our passion for movement, our frustration with injuries, our accomplishments and setbacks.  We cheer for each other and sometimes we cry.

Back of the Pack is Welcome

Runners at the Back of the Pack are feeling more welcome in recent years. Race t-shirts come in larger sizes. We meet faster runners who can see the victory behind our 15-minute miles. In return, we follow and applaud those athletes whose achievements exceed our wildest dreams.  We cheer for the back but also for the front of the pack.

We’ve Come a Long Way

Whether it’s Runner’s World magazine or Run Wild Missoula, the places where runners gather have changed.  Not that long ago, it was all about competition.  Only winners were featured in magazines; club activities focused on speed work. Today’s “Runner of the Month” may come from anyplace in the pack.  We recognize inspiring individuals at any pace. Personal growth, a healthy lifestyle, and mutual support are taking their place on the podium with fast, faster, and fastest.

But Divisions Remain

Yet, even in this flood of goodwill, I can find an undercurrent of us and them. Although friendship and support across lines are real, we also note our differences.  Back-of-the-Packers brag about having more fun. We “dis” competitive runners for failing to smile.  Front-of-the-packers question the commitment of penguins and turtles to our shared sport.  One recent ad for running shoes implied that “bucket-listers” didn’t respect the marathon.

Beyond Us and Them

What is possible?  We are headed in a good direction.  The running community has grown in its capacity to welcome and celebrate diversity.  There is room for continuing growth.  There is room for more compassion and respect between those who identify with 6-, 12-, and 18-minute miles. And let’s remember always: room for improvement flows both ways.

What About You?

Do you focus on commonalities in the running community?  Are your friends drawn from faster and slower pace groups than your own?  Is it your habit to increase or reduce the tendency to contrast us with them?

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