Runners are a diverse bunch. Half marathon corrals are filled with people of every age, ethnicity and size. Yet despite this reality the stereotype of what a runner looks like is often very different from the reality. The image of a typical runner, especially as depicted in ads by leading shoe and gear manufacturers, is that of a finely chiseled athletic machine with gracefully perfect form. These individuals are always slim and toned, if not downright ripped. (Of course, I mean “ripped” in sinewy, runner way, not in a pro wrestler way.)
Above all, these people are attractive. Not just a little attractive, but HOT!
Are there runners in the world that actually look like this? Of course. However, these runners are the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of runners are not graceful as much as we are adequate. Some of us are even downright awkward. And while I dislike this misrepresentation, I can’t say I’m immune to this archaic mindset. From time to time, I’ve been guilty of glancing at a runner during a race and thinking, “Really? This guy’s gonna make it to the finish line?”
I try to quickly extinguish these thought because I should know better. Many years ago I knew one the most unconventional runners imaginable.
During my time as a student at Syracuse University, I was employed at pizza place/greasy spoon called Cosmos. I spent all four years working there in a variety of capacities: dishwasher, short order cook, delivery driver, cashier, pizza maker, manager. The weekday dishwasher was a man named Crazy Larry. I can’t recall the genesis of his nickname, but I assume it was because Larry seemed to be legitimately crazy, often mumbling to himself as he went about his day.
One evening as I was driving along the outskirts of campus, I saw a stout, unkempt man running around the park. It was Crazy Larry. Dressed in grey sweats, a raggedy t-shirt and hat, and sporting a set of cheap headphones, Larry pumped his arms and made his way down the street. His form left a little to be desired, but he was definitely running and he was definitely doing it on purpose.
During my next shift, I told my co-worker Bob what I’d seen. “Oh yeah,” he said, not the least bit surprised. “Larry runs every day.”
Every day? This seemed preposterous. I didn’t know Crazy Larry very well, but based purely on appearance, he was the least healthy, least athletic person I knew. This was a man who looked far more likely to subscribe to High Times than Runner’s World.
And yet Larry was a runner.
I never bothered to ask him about his running. I never talked to him about how many miles he logged or if he participated in races on the weekends. I never inquired about his pace or what he listened to while he ran. And while I can blame my lack of curiosity on the fact that I wasn’t into running in those days, the primary reason I never broached the subject was that Larry was f@*king crazy and, as a rule, I avoided conversations with him.
Looking back, I sort of regret not asking him about his unlikely hobby. Perhaps I could’ve gained a little insight into what motivates an unconventional runner. He often comes to mind when I think about how we often make assumptions, not only about runners, but about people in general.
Not all runners are hot or skinny. Some of us don’t even look like we’re in shape. Most of us don’t look like the people that fill the social media feeds of Adidas or Asics or Nike or Brooks. But just because we don’t fit someone else’s definition of a runner, doesn’t mean we can’t be runners. We can all be runners. Every single one of us.
Because if Crazy Larry can be a runner… anyone can be a runner.