Part 3: What’s It’s Like Now

What’s it like now? This simple answer is: I don’t know. But, then again, neither does anyone else. The running participants, the running events, the running industry, and the running ethos continue to change like the colors and shapes in a kaleidoscope.

Just look at the options in shoes. For years Nike was the dominant brand. There were other, less well known brands, like Brooks and Asics and – if you had wide feet – New Balance. And then, if you knew as little as I did when started running, you wore Saucony “Jazz” because you liked jazz.

Now you have minimalist shoes, maximal cushioning, different heel drops, brands that no one had ever heard of or that didn’t exist 10 years ago having huge displays at expos and are pushing legacy brands off the shelves in running specialty store. People argue about whether an 8mm heel drop is better than a 12mm heel drop or whether a zero heel drop is the way to go. For me, all that mattered was that there was a left shoe and a right shoe.

It seems like every week someone comes up with a magic solution to allow you to run faster and farther. It might be magic tape, or a magic drink, or a magic diet. Whatever it is, it’s magic. What all of these magic solutions seem to have in common is that they are substitutes for smart, consistent training. 

In a conversation with Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter, I asked him where he thought the running community was. Did he think that we had passed from the 2nd running boom into a 3rd running boom? He opined that perhaps we had moved through the 3rd running boom into aa 4th running boom. 

The second running boom was pretty well defined. As I have written, we were a little older, a little heavier, and a LOT slower than the first – nylon shorts – runners. The 3rd running boom that Frank was talking about is what I have called the “capri” generation. These are runners, principally women, who use running as one of the elements of their fitness routine. Many also do yoga and cross-fit, or any of a myriad of fitness activities. 

Running, for the “capri” generation is a highly social part of their fitness life. Whether it’s a 3-mile run or a one-hour spin class it’s often followed by a trip to the local coffee house. For them, the “running community” is the small group of friends that share their activities and goals.

This can be seen most clearly at the large Rock ’n’ Roll type marathons and half-marathons. It’s not at all unusual to see a group of young women come to Seattle or Nashville to have a “girls” weekend and – oh by the way – run a half marathon. That’s not to be critical. I think it’s wonderful. I’m only saying that if is a shift from the global running community that defined the second running boom.

I think the 4th running wave could be defined as the social media generation, or the “selfie”  or “groupie” generation. It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t count unless you take a photo of yourself, or you and your friends, doing it. It always amused me to be announcing at the finish line and see hundreds of folks coming across with their phones in the air videoing themselves. And, I’m sure, the video was posted to all their social media accounts before they even got their medal.

When I finished my first marathon, in Columbus, Ohio, at 43 years-old, in 4:56 minutes the LAST thing I wanted to do was share that moment. It was deeply personal and private. It represented an achievement that a year previous I would have thought impossible. The person that started that marathon was not the person who finished. The experience was mine to enjoy.

What does all this mean for the future? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. What I do know is that those of us who crashed through the walls of the running industry and demanded to be noticed are no longer on the front line of change. We can be proud of what we accomplished, but, like a child that grows up, at some point we have to let go.

Waddle on, friends.

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