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Week 4 of Marathon Training. Are All Runners Smug?

Today on the agenda: discovering the reasons why some runners come off as smug to other people, why it’s counterproductive, and how we can avoid being perceived as smug.

Another Monday has rolled around – and this means that it’s time to share how my training went in the fourth week of my marathon prep. Before you start yawning and rolling your eyes (‘Who cares?!’), let me say that in today’s post I’ll be focusing on more than just me, myself, and I!

Okay, first thing first. The training was fine. I even managed to do a good track workout with a couple other runners on Wednesday (more on it in this post), and there were three HIIT (high intensity interval training) gym sessions – two of them I did by myself, and one with a group of like-minded friends from my gym on Saturday. My Sunday morning long run, however, did not happen: we had a terribly rainy weekend… and before I hear ‘Excuses, excuses!’ let me mumble quickly that it wasn’t just a long-lasting drizzle but an almost full blown storm that lasted all through Saturday/Sunday night and well into Sunday afternoon. Basically, I decided to make Sunday a rest day and to go for a run on Monday. Glad I did this: my 7.25 mile run this morning went seamlessly well, with me finally managing to run faster than I had in months (average pace 8:44 min per mile).


 No, this is not some race I did on the weekend – just a pretty picture for your visual entertainment!

This is not the first report on my marathon training that made me think after I’ve finished writing it: how are people reading this going to react to it? Are they going to think that I’m just ‘another one of those’ smug runners who go blah-blah-blah about how great they are as athletes? Or am I being paranoid here?

Believe it or not, ever since I discovered my love for running and started participating in races, I’ve tried to prove to people that not all runners are smug, self-centered individuals. We seem to notice too many of those types at races, and automatically assume that anyone who likes running must be that kind of person.

Before going any further, we’ve got to determine the ‘whys’ of today’s topic:

Why Some Runners are Smug, and Why it is Counterproductive for the Big Picture

We know about the existence of elite runners – athletes who train and perform on a level that for most of us average Joes is beyond attainable. They work extremely hard and go all out in races clocking in times that seem superhuman. While most of us are okay knowing that we’ll never reach their level, some of us continue training really hard in pursuit of perfection. And there’s nothing wrong with that – unless we get so competitive that we begin acting arrogantly around other runners (especially the ones who are slower than us) and even non-runners!

A few months ago, I came across a great article in Running Times magazine written by David Alm (“An Elite State of Mind: Learning Humility from the Fastest Runners in the World”. Running Times, March 2013). In the article, Alm describes his trip to Puerto Rico where he got to train and then run a half marathon with a few elite runners from Africa. While not an elite himself (but with some really fast personal records under his belt), Alm was surprised to find out how humble and laid-back these professional runners turned out to be – the qualities he’d never seen in front-of-the-pack amateur runners back home. On race day, Alm ran his slowest half marathon ever due to a pretty gruelling hilly course. The pros he ran with gave him a pat on the back and showed with their personal example that his slow time was not worth being upset about.

Once Alm returned home and started racing again, he experienced a “much icier” attitude from his fellow amateur runners – the guys who might have beaten him in a 5k by a minute, but were still too slow to be compared to the elite runners. One guy suggested that Alm’s time of 3:13 for a marathon-gone-bad was kind of slow, so he should look into running ultras instead: “Those guys aren’t very fast.” See the difference in attitudes?

Sigmund Freud outlined a condition that he called “narcissism of minor differences”. This is how Alm describes it in his article: “[R]ivalries (and even wars) develop between highly similar groups or individuals because they have a need to distinguish themselves by the smallest degree, and then to insist, militantly, on the importance of that distinction. Think: India and Pakistan, Spain and Portugal, and two American colleges in close proximity.” If you are a runner with a few races behind you, you’ve probably experienced such attitude from another runner who, it might seem, must be drawing some personal pleasure out of telling you how much better he or she is at running. The smugness gets thicker the faster the running field gets…


Which one are you? It doesn’t matter as long as you’re enjoying yourself!

Unfortunately, this attitude is very counterproductive. A beginner might be snubbed by a more experienced runner, lose the tiny bits of motivation to run that she had, and quit the sport altogether, settling with the idea that all runners are crazy and mean. For an experienced runner who defines himself by his racing lifestyle, a bad race can become so devastating that he will forever lose his desire to try again. Yes, this happens.

Running is simple: just go out there and put one foot in front of another. Running is good for us: getting fit benefits our health greatly, makes our heart, muscles and bones stronger. But running is also hard: if you wish to accomplish a great goal, you’ll have to train at levels that you’ve never approached before, and to get there, you’ll need all the motivation you can get.

So why would we make this even harder with our attitudes? As you see, it’s completely counterproductive. Instead of showing off how great we are in front of other, less athletic people, we should focus on inspiring them!

The Message: Let’s Inspire Each Other!

I’m not claiming that I have some magic strategy here, but there are at least a couple things I’ve been doing in hope of making people more confident about their possible physical achievements. First: being approachable. I try to be open with sharing whatever knowledge I’ve accumulated through running and racing with anybody who’s interested. I’m not a running coach or a fitness professional, but sometimes even a little bit of info that I have can make a difference to someone who doesn’t have that info. You might not always be able to recognize a friendly person in me – especially if you see my stone-cold face while I’m working out at the gym, ha ha! – but I’m never going to shy away from giving advice (in a friendly, non-smug manner!) to someone who expresses interest.

Second: knowing when to shut up. Okay, I’m not perfect at this, but we all can agree: there are – unfortunately! – much more people out there who have no interest whatsoever in our athletic achievements than those who do. And this is something we’ll have to make peace with. Hey, if you’ve got nobody to talk to about your running success, start a blog! Trust me, that’s a really fun thing to do, and it’s surprising how like-minded people will start clinging to it! And you certainly don’t have to be a great runner to do this – I fully and completely acknowledge that I’m far from being one!

And this is why I hope that my updates on marathon training don’t come across as self-centered and smug. After all, the whole idea behind starting this blog is to show that anyone can run a marathon in a healthy manner on a plant-based vegan diet. Yes, I know that there is a whole new level of smugness that some vegan people seem to exude – but that’s a topic for a whole new blog post!

Until next time – let’s inspire each other, not alienate!


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Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats
Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Eventually she embraced veganism as a way to be kinder to fellow living beings and the environment. Alina hopes that this blog helps its readers on their path to becoming vegan and making this world a better place.