The privilege to run

By now, I’m sure most runners have heard about the planned #BlackLivesMatter protest that intends to disrupt the Twin Cities Marathon this weekend. If not, here’s a Runner’s World article about what is happening, and how the various sides are discussing what to do and how to move forward (note that the BLM chapter leader is in close contact with race organizers). Try to read this and absorb the information objectively, and for the love of all things holy, do not read the comments.

I first read/heard about this on Monday and mostly kept my feelings to myself, discussing it in the afternoon with my friend Keeley, and over dinner with my husband. We all felt very conflicted and had thoughtful initial talks about it. Yes – I am a marathoner. Yes – I am a white person living in this country. Yes – I am a supporter of BLM. (Yes, I am insanely liberal on social issues – but you may or may not know this depending on how you came to this blog. I generally keep this to running and keep my personal political feelings to myself. Just bear with me for this one post.) I struggled to reconcile all of this.

I posted an article reporting on the news to Facebook, and got a plethora of responses, some more measured and nuanced than others. Some reacted with anger, others with confusion, some with naivete (myself included). Everyone with at least a little bit of privilege, even those who tried very hard to shed it (again – myself included).

After discussing it with many and ruminating over it for a while, and reading so many responses, I knew finally what my feelings were on the subject. I was asked in the thread as a runner if I had no forewarning, what would my reaction be at mile 25 of a marathon, my way being blocked by a protest? I honestly can’t say for sure. Without forewarning (and it bears mention, again, that there is forewarning, that BLM is working with the race organizers, that the police are aware and everyone is looking out for the safety of all involved), it would depend how my race was going. If I was bonking and delirious, or on my way to a PR or BQ. I might be pissed. I might cry. I might just be confused and out of it and unable to react in a concrete way. I don’t think I can assess that fairly.

But as a runner, one who is decidedly not registered for this event (though trying to imagine moving the protest to my November marathon, but again, hypotheticals are tricky), after all this thought I can’t help but be brought back to my own privilege. I am a white person living in this country. I live in a dual-income household. I live in a quaint college town that is extremely affordable. I grew up in a middle class (depending on perspective, and pre- vs. post-parents’ divorce, may be categorized as upper middle class by some) household. I have a (very expensive) college education. I can afford running shoes and gear, I can afford a coach, I can afford race registrations, I can afford to travel to races, I can afford the time off to go to races. I have safe places to run, and a social circle of support and safety when it’s dark and I may be more fearful to run or be alone (because I am also a female runner – thanks dude friends and tough-looking hubby!). This Runner’s World article on the relative whiteness of the recreational running world is very relevant to this particular line of discussion.

I take for granted that I can afford all these things. I take for granted that I have family and friends who support my running passion. I take for granted that I have the time and resources and support and relative safety and security to do what it takes to run marathons.

One argument I have seen a lot of (and one that sprang to my own mind as I was initially considering all this) was this: running is a great unifier, particular the marathon, which can raise people up or bring them to their knees, often both. The marathon is the equalizer. The marathon is the merciless beast. The marathon brings out our humanity – all the darkest and most determined parts of us. The 7-hour marathoner runs in the echoed footsteps of the 2:04 elite. Runners will carry each other across the finish line – whether literally or figuratively. We see these moments all the time in marathons, like in Boston, where an act of violence only served to strengthen the running community (note: I am NOT making that comparison I keep seeing – that this protest interrupting the finish could be likened to what the Boston bombers did. It is not even remotely in the same category.).

But it was pointed out to me and made clear to me that running is open to all…except those who can’t access it. Those who are  working multiple jobs to scrape by. Single parents. People living in neighborhoods torn apart by violence, living in fear of stepping out their front door, let alone in running shoes. Those who can’t afford the time, the investment, the equipment, the coaching; those who don’t have the safe neighborhood to run in, the community of security and support. Those who were never encouraged to take up the sport (or any sport). Running is a privilege.

Repeat that to yourself: running is a privilege. A friend of mine here in Athens today is waiting on the final word on Boston Marathon entries from last week, crossing fingers hard that her hard work paid off, that her -3:02 qualifier will secure her a slot for 2016 (as I was writing this, she got in!!!!!). She wrote a long post on Facebook about the many struggles of her life, how she persevered through them to get where she is today: an accomplished academic and runner (not to mention being an incredibly kind and warm human being). I was eating humble pie and tearing up as I read her words. I was forced to look my own ivory tower square in the face. I am fortunate. I am lucky. I am privileged. I have taken it all for granted far too often.

Running is a privilege. I am blessed with time, I am blessed with resources, I am blessed with great friends and family and support and a coach. I cannot take that for granted. I have a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, a husband who loves me, and a strong body to carry me through. Those are just small pieces of the privileges in my life – running and otherwise.

These athletes have been training for weeks, for months, for years for this race. Whether running for a charity, for a bucket list item, for a PR or BQ or OTQ, in memory of a loved one, or just for the pure fun of it. It is a gift they have worked hard to get. A line of protesters standing in their way a mile before the finish line of that gift? That is understandably frustrating and enraging.

But isn’t that the point? The perfect symbol of doing everything and anything to achieve your goal, and having your way obstructed for reasons that feel entirely arbitrary and unfair?

Many will continue to argue against the protest. Many will say it won’t further the cause, that it’ll just incite anger against BLM. Many will say the venue is inappropriate (think about this, though – saying the words “I support BLM but don’t inconvenience me, go do your protest elsewhere” is a statement that comes from a place of privilege). Many will try to tone police the protest.

I know I won’t really change any minds with this post – I wrote most of this for me, anyhow, like all my writing in general. If no other message gets through, however, please hear this: next time you go for a run, be grateful that you can.

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