Faster people snubbing slower people is rude. This we know. But how often has a slower person said of a faster person:
I can’t talk to her because:
… she’s too fast.
… she’s kind of addicted.
… have you seen her PR?
… she’s totally obsessed.
… she wears those buns-things.
… she’s too ______.
How often have you been at the starting line at a race, and gazed at the svelte gazelles at the front and assumed they would never give you the time of day let alone be a potential friend? Do you assume a fellow runner who starts talking about her higher mileage (than yours) and (much faster than your) PR is bragging?
Why do so many people seem to assume that faster runners look down on slower runners? In fact, that assumption itself is rude: just because someone’s fast doesn’t mean she’s a jerk.
Three years after we first wrote about it, speedism still exists.
By the way some runners talk, you’d think elite runners or even the people who win the local 5k are Other, Untouchable, or Celebrity and they’re often written off as snooty better-than-you jerks. Or worse, some people are even offended if another runner dares to say she runs much faster or more mileage. That’s right: in this often-true scenario, a slow person is offended because a faster person talked about fast runner stuff. It’s as if there’s this rampant belief that somehow those who run the fastest, simply by being far ahead in the pack, intentionally diminish the accomplishments of everyone else.
Why do some feel so offended by other runners’ success? Are fast runners supposed to not talk about what they do? And an even better question might be: what does someone’s running speed have to say about that person beyond … how fast they run?
On the other hand, putting runners into boxes can go the other way too. I like to call myself a kind-of-fast-recreational runner. I usually place in the top 10% of races I run and I don’t run a race to just finish, I want to PR. I choose goals that are tied to specific paces and long distances. I try not to judge other runners who approach running differently than I do, but I’m not perfect about that.
I’ve seen those runners struggling at the back of the pack, trying to squeak in under six hours for a marathon only to be met with aid stations where volunteers have already packed up, pitied them briefly, and then didn’t give them another thought. Or, have you ever talked to another runner and then written off their commitment, seriousness, or validity when they mention their PR is two hours slower than yours?
No matter which direction it goes, the preconceived notion that someone of a different speed or ability level than you is either a better or lesser person than you is speedism. Speedism, like other -isms, leads to the impulse to distance yourself from that Other, whether faster or slower. Remember when Cinnamon wrote about why average runners should care about elites? She said this:
When you link a chain together, the links at the front will pull the links at the back. I care about these women because they are part of my tribe, the front of my chain. I care about you because you are in my chain. We are alike, searchers all, braving rainy cold and humid heat and boring treadmill daily in our quest for the truth about the power inside us. If we stick together, when the elites get closer to the truth, I get closer too. As they exceed the expectations of the human body to run marathon paces that put my 400m time to shame, their success pulls me farther ahead, inspires me to work harder, reminds me to recover well, helps me build my body as a temple of my faith and trust in the truth.
The chain of runners from the very front to the very back is beautiful. But speedism breaks that chain apart into individual, disconnected links. No matter if we’re scowling up at super-elites in their altitude chambers or looking down on hobby joggers treasuring every finish, by destroying the chain with speedism, we are breaking apart our community by walling us off from making connections with other runners.
I know this from personal experience. For me, since I’ve worked to be more open-minded about runners of differing abilities, I realize that how critical I am of everyone else’s race times and training decisions corresponds with how critical I am of myself. That self-criticism has been one of my largest obstacles in achieving my goals. Once I stopped considering myself not good enough to run with people that intimidate me, not only have I become faster, but I’ve widened my friendship sphere and opened my heart and mind to the infinite joy running at any speed brings.
At the end of a recent half marathon, as I waited and cheered for friends and strangers crossing the finish line for over an hour after finishing second, I noticed something: the smiles and sense of accomplishment did not change even as the time clock ticked off the minutes. The high fives did not decrease. The disappointment felt by runners who missed their goal was just as bitter, whether that goal was to break 80 minutes or two-and-a-half hours. The shit-eating finish line grins and glows of pride didn’t fade either as the links of the chain passed me by. The sense of community, of work well-done, bloomed.
Have you ever experienced speedism or have you ever been a perpetrator? What can we gain by overcoming it?