The Planet Wave—Are Runners Real Athletes?
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on June 27, 2012
If you’re at all like me, your identity is wrapped up in what we do. We run and we’re runners. I’m a dad, husband, college graduate, a semi-successful professional, but what I am more than anything else is simply this: I’m a runner.
That’s how I think of myself and, for better or worse, that’s who I am. The Runner.
You probably are too. You are also probably great at all those intangibles qualities we share such as persistence, goal setting and consistency. We can set a fall marathon as our goal, train through the summer heat and think nothing of knocking out hard, long runs. We’re driven, tough and achievement-oriented folks who have exceptional cardiovascular systems, powerful legs and razor-sharp focus.
But are we real athletes? Is being able to run for two, three, four or even five hours a significant athletic achievement? Or are we just highly motivated aerobic freaks who can keep moving over any type of terrain through any weather?
I don’t have a definitive answer here, but while thinking about those questions this morning on my run, I was drawn back to a 10-K race I ran several years ago in Phoenix. Don’t remember much about the race, but do remember quite well the post-race party which was hosted by Steve Scott, then America’s greatest miler (now a successful college coach in California) who, at the time, lived in nearby Tempe.
After the first keg was drained, a bunch of the best road racers in the country walked across the street to a park that had a full-length basketball court. Wearing running shoes and short shorts, a “game” broke out which pitted the skinny wimps vs. the emaciated scrawnies.
Even though these guys—all lungs and legs--didn’t have game which would have threatened a junior high girls’ team, each one was capable of hammering out sub-five-minute miles (or, in Scott’s case, 3:47.69), but none of them could out jump a Galapagos Tortoise.
Somehow, the game of basketball survived; some of the runners didn’t as one by one they begged out with strained hammies, sore Achilles and calf muscles.
Still, these were some of the most incredibly fit guys on the planet without an extra pound of fat on them who could run 140 miles week after week and yet none of them could sustain five minutes of up-and-down, full court basketball without pulling every muscle in their body. None had the coordination and hand/eye skill necessary to sink a single shot. (The game ended in a scoreless tie.) If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would have been comical.
But my point is these great runners were absolutely incapable of doing anything other than processing huge amounts of oxygen and moving quickly and efficiently for 10 kilometers. Doing anything athletic other than that and these guys were as hopeless as LeBron James would be at mile 22 in a marathon.
Bottom line: We’re aerobic animals, plain and simple. We look good in T-shirts and shorts. But that’s about it. Most of us can’t dunk, hit a curve ball or spank a 300-yard drive down the middle of a fairway.
Running doesn’t instill any great athletic benefits on us. Instead, running affords us a fit, healthy (and sustainable) lifestyle which is infinitely more valuable than fleeting athletic success.
I can live with that.