A Letter to the Editor: We Need More Runners

November 15, 2013

Typically on runladylike.com, I reserve Fridays to share inspiring stories of ordinary runners, triathletes and casual exercisers who are doing extraordinary things to be healthy and motivate all of us to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. People like Eric McElvenny who, after losing part of his right leg in an IED explosion serving our country in Afghanistan, finished his first IRONMAN in Kona last month. Or Kristin McQueen, who recently finished her 10th IRONMAN and umpteenth marathon after battling cancer for 10 years and having her 10th brain surgery. Or Sarah Canney, a mom and fellow running blogger who has become an inspiration in her community and around the country for running a half marathon to raise money and awareness for the local children’s hospital where her son was treated for a rare birth disorder.

These are people who matter. Whose stories teach us something. Whose words leave a lasting impression and an indelible mark – not because they are about running or endurance sports – because they are lessons about being the kind of human beings that we all strive to learn from. They are inspiring and give us hope.

Well, this Friday is a little different. Today, I’m introducing you to a gentleman by the name of Chad Stafko. He is a writer who lives in the Midwest and wrote an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal this week about running. I don’t know Chad Stafko. I’m sure he is probably a likeable guy. Someone I might even enjoy chatting about writing with over a beer on a Thursday after work. But Chad shared an opinion this week that really got under my skin. Party because he doesn’t know much about running, and partly because I know his hypothesis isn’t true.

Chad’s article in the Wall Street Journal poked fun at runners. There were many parts of his piece that made me chuckle. Joking about how obsessed we runners are with the sport/hobby we love is both true and funny. Despite his distaste for the sport (he asked why anyone would run 10 miles when they could drive it), he tried to present some balance based on runners he knows in real life. Nevertheless, his overarching point really bothered me. He painted the picture that many runners have a “look-at-me-desire” and run because it gives us validation from other people who see us doing it. Hey, look at me! Aren’t I awesome?

I have a theory. There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them. These days, people want more than ever to be seen … People want attention and crave appreciation. If you’re actually doing something like running – covering ground, staying healthy, almost even having fun – what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire.” ~ Chad Stafko

If I’ve learned anything during the years, especially as a blogger who writes about my own opinions and experiences, it’s that everyone has different opinions and beliefs. The diversity of our differences is a great thing. It makes for provoking conversation. It helps us look at the world through different glasses. And I respect Chad’s opinion and his freedom to share his thoughts. I appreciate that he doesn’t enjoy running and would proudly put a 0.0 bumper sticker on his car. But I don’t agree with him.

Proud to be a runner

So to you, to Chad, to the Wall Street Journal, I would like to offer 4 thoughts for anyone who thinks the majority of runners choose to run to impress other people or to make themselves the center of attention. I hope you’ll agree, or at least be open to considering these thoughts. And if you don’t, that’s ok too. We’ll just amiably agree to disagree.

Dear Editor of the Wall Street Journal: 4 Reasons I Disagree with Your Opinion Editorial on Running

1. Runners aren’t self-absorbed. Self-absorbed people are self-absorbed. As runners, when we finish a big race – one we’ve been training for for months and have made sacrifices to achieve – we’re proud. It’s only natural to want to share that joy and tell those feelings to those around us. I will never forget the day my mom finished her first half marathon last year. After the race, she even told the waiter who was taking our lunch order that she just finished running 13.1 miles. It wasn’t because she wanted a pat on the back from him or because she was trying to pat herself, it was because a year earlier, she couldn’t even run 30 seconds without stopping. A year earlier, she was overweight and feeling unhealthy. A year earlier, she thought running a half marathon was unattainable. A year later, she accomplished the “impossible” at the age of 58.

Letter to the Editor for Chad Stafko
Left: With my mom and dad after my mom’s first half marathon; Top right: Finishing my mom’s first half marathon with her; Bottom right: My mom after a training run for her second half marathon with our good friend Jere

Of course we’re proud of pushing our limits and proving to ourselves that we are stronger than we ever thought we could be. If you have met people who use running as a way to be egotistical, self-involved or make others feel less significant, it’s not because they’re a runner. It’s because they happen to be a jerk. Runners aren’t jerks. People who are jerks are jerks. It isn’t the running that makes people act in inappropriate ways. In fact, of the hundreds of thousands of runners I’ve met throughout the years, I could count on one hand the number who weren’t incredibly supportive, encouraging and attempting to lift others up around them.

2. Running is the most accessible form of exercise. In a tough economy, it doesn’t cost a dime to go out your front door and move your legs. Why are more and more people running? For one, it isn’t as expensive as a having a monthly gym membership, signing up for Crossfit or hiring a personal trainer. It is simple. Straightforward. Almost anyone can do it. And running companies and race directors are finding ways to encourage people who once considered running untouchable to get more involved with the explosion of color runs, mud runs, etc. There’s big business in running, sure. But when it comes down to it, it is the most basic form of exercise along with walking. We are seeing more people do it because it is the easiest way to get active and it provides a social outlet which can be attained at a reasonable cost. Trust me, I know how much being a triathlete costs. Some days I wish I just ran *wink.*

3. Obesity is a much bigger problem than proud runners. Making fun of ourselves is funny. It’s even necessary. I certainly make fun of myself. In a sport that requires a lot of focus and dedication, we all have to have a sense of humor and a self-awareness about what we do. But instead of focusing on runners being too proud, shouldn’t we be focusing on the much more important issues? Like the fact that obesity has reached an all-time high in the United States. That more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. That about 20 to 25 percent of children are either overweight or obese. That obesity has doubled worldwide from 1991 to 1998.

We’re publishing newspaper articles making fun of runners? People who are doing something to be healthy and maintain a healthy weight to reduce their risk of cancer, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases? Moms and dads who are setting a good example for their kids? I don’t know about you, but it seems like we should be raising awareness about why running – as one form of exercise – can help you live a longer and happier life. Of course, we runners still tease each other about our craziness, but if I had a platform like the Wall Street Journal and a million eyeballs to read my content, I would like to think I’d use it for good. Or at least something important.

4. Being part of a community that builds you up is a lot better than one that tears you down. Before I became a long distance runner, I didn’t understand that the best thing about running is the community of people who are a part of it. I have met so many helpful, supportive, encouraging, inspiring people. Runners. No matter what kind of day or workout I have, there is always someone to say that the next one will be better. To focus on the positive. I personally would rather be part of a community of people who are helping me believe in myself and achieve my greatest potential than one that tears me down and assumes I’m not doing things for the right reasons.

Reasons to run on runladylike.com

As a final note, I would remind all of us who run that we should be proud. We should be ok with wearing that 13.1 shirt into a Starbucks or donning that 26.2 bumper sticker on the back of our car if we want. But we must also be self-aware. Not everyone shares our passion for the sport. Hell, a lot of the time our spouses, family members and friends wish we had selected a different hobby and don’t understand why we keep waking up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to cover double-digit miles (or keep annoying them by telling them every detail about it). We need to respect those people. If asked, simply share with them why running makes you happy and fills your life with joy. Remember to be supportive and encouraging of anyone doing something to improve their lives. Give the benefit of the doubt. And let’s commit to not making assertions or assumptions about things – other sports, hobbies or anything else – we know little about.

I think the world could use more runners. They are pretty amazing people if you ask me. But Chad Stafko never did. Chad, I hope this helps you understand a little more about why we runners love to run. It’s not about what others think. It is so much deeper than you could possibly begin to imagine. It does something inside – to our head and our heart – that is truly beyond words. It changes us. It makes us better. I hope you have (or will find) something in your life that will bring you as much joy and personal satisfaction as running has brought me.

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Why do you run? Help set the running record straight by sharing your reasons here.



Great article. I’ll admit there are times when I am like “I bet these people think I am crazy…and I love it”…but all in all I am in running for MY health, MY sanity, and MY family. Love it.

Dave N.

Well said, Jes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the opinions of the author are going to change, though. A Google search of his previous writings show that he specializes in criticism of people who don’t fit his ideal.

Quite frankly, I’m happy that we as runners have such a great support structure amongst ourselves. Let the haters hate; and keep doing what you’re doing to promote the great people involved with running.

Jojo @ RunFastEatLots

I’m shocked that he advocates driving over running, considering the obesity problem in the country.

This was a well written article. Thanks for setting things straight!


Great rebuttal!! I for one would prefer to run in the pitch darkness so no one sees me – but that’s not safe at all!!

And I have actually stopped in the middle of the street, in the middle of a Half Marathon and said, out loud, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done” (It was pouring rain…buckets!!) but I. Kept.Moving!! Ya gotta!!

meghan @ little girl in the big world

Good response, Jesica! People who share the sentiments of the author just kind of make me laugh. He took it to a new extreme though. I’ve heard of people annoyed by the bumper stickers that I’m so proud of, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone so annoyed of runners running and thinking that we’re trying to do it just to show off on the side of the road. You’re definitely right that it’s better to be part of an uplifting community than one that puts you down. Good response. On that note, did you see another WSJ opinion editors response? It was kind of funny, though also not uplifting either.


I haven’t seen the second OpEd yet but I will check it out today. Thanks so much for weighing in and sharing your thoughts.

Sarah @ Sweet Miles

Yesssss amen sister! That quote irked me as well…it’s always easier to say something like that when you’re ignorant and don’t understand what you’re talking about. I appreciated your classy, tasteful response 🙂 Maybe he will come across your response sometime 🙂


I think what bothered me most about Chad’s article was his tone and as you mentioned his blanket assumption. I am usually a solo runner, so I tend to spend my long runs in deep thought. A few months back, while running, I was contemplating what made runners so kind and supportive and I came to the conclusion that it is because we have so much time to think. Follow along with me here for a second… Could you imagine running 10 miles with someone that you could not stand? Now imagine the person that is bothering you is yourself? I know if there is something bothering me, it will come up during a long run and I will have nothing else to do but figure it out because lets face, what else is there to do. Sure you can think about your form or pay attention to your pace, but we all know that our minds wonder. If there is something really bothering me, it will not go away until I address it. Running gives me time alone with myself to address those things that just aren’t that fun to think about. However, I believe I am a better person for it. It’s me keeping me honest. And that is a big part of why I run, not just to make myself a better person physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.


Very thoughtful insights, Erin. Thank you so much for taking the time to share. Happy running.

Kelly Caiazzo

Thanks for sharing a link to your response in my blog! I loved reading it, I agree wholeheartedly. I love especially your points about using the platform of the WSJ for something better if given the opportunity, and that runners ought to be self aware. So valid! Thanks for being another strong voice in the running community responding.

Ashley @ BrocBlog

This is very well said and I hope he reads it, I definitely read the article and dove straight into blogging about what a dummy he is but this very reasonable approach to why his article was pretty pointless is great.


Great post! I def do not run to be seen. In fact, I’d prefer no one ever see me. I think you should submit your rebuttal to the paper 😉


I think most people who run aren’t actually doing it for the accolades, but like to run because it’s “alone time” to meditate or spend with themselves. Great response, he probably just needs to go for a run 🙂

Sarah @RunFarGirl

I am actually more worried about the people who DON’T see me. The drivers who are texting and not looking both ways before they turn onto the road or the drivers who are driving too fast. MOST drivers DON’T see runners, in fact I’d say the other drivers who do see runners are runners themselves. I don’t think it is a narcissistic endeavor as this guy suggests, quirt the opposite in fact.

Sarah @RunFarGirl

Been thinking about this article more especially this quote: “These days, people want more than ever to be seen … People want attention and crave appreciation.” Hmmm. What better way to get attention than write an OpEd piece for the Wall Street Journal. Just sayin’.

Lisa @ RunWiki

Well said sister! The guy is a proven miserable, unhappy jackass. He specializes in bringing other people down and obviously has no clue. He failed to research that running has saved countless people from a life of food, alcohol and drug addiction among other things. I am more unhappy with WSJ for publishing such crap than the article itself. Sadly, people like this guy never change, the best we can do is send a silent blessing goodbye.

Kristina @ Blog About Running

I love the story about your mom’s first half marathon – it made me tear up!

After running my first half marathon I put a 13.1 magnet on my car. Not to impress anybody or show off — mostly just as a little wink-wink to other drivers who might be runners. A special little hello that says, “yeah we’re both driving now, but we would rather be running!”

At least when I see 13.1 or 26.2 bumper stickers on other people’s cars I think they are giving a little wink-wink to me and other runners. I don’t think they are doing it to be egotistical or self-absorbed. It’s like having a democrat or republican sticker on your car – it shows what group of people you identify with and gives a little tip of the hat to them.


I love that thought, Kristina. I feel that natural connection to people with stickers too … we’re part of the same tribe 🙂 Congrats on finishing your first half marathon! That is a great accomplishment! xo


Heck yeah girl! Agree on all points. I was irate when I read the piece, generalizing any group of people is always an awful thing.


I read his article the other night and I think my mouth was open the whole time. I was shocked that someone would feel that way about people running! When I run I am sweaty, smell stinky, my face is bright red, and sometimes I am making some very unladylike noises 😉 so oh yeah I am really running around because I want people to notice me?! Seriously? When I first started dating my now husband I would plan my running routes so he wouldn’t see me running. And when I am training for a marathon and running along distances I actually avoid telling people how far I ran because they end up giving you the crazy eye look. I have never once thought about or looked at running as a way to be seen! That is what my blog is for, DUH! Great response to his article!


I would say the main reason that I run is to be healthy and get to eat what I want without too much guilt (within reason). Other reasons include competition, mostly with myself trying to beat a previous time or distance. I don’t get to do that on the baseball or football field these days, so this is my competitive outlet. I’ll admit I do like running gear for some reason. It’s fun.


Yeah when I tripped and sprawled flat out running on the golf cart path the other week I really wanted people to see me. Have to admit that I was proud to see myself in your blog, though. :-). If that makes me narcissistic and self-centered, so be it! Thanks for a well-articulated rebuttal, Jes.

Lindsay K

Thank you for posting! Well said! You’re absolutely right! WSJ ought to use their position to build people up rather than tear them down. Just like a bully, to pick on someone for doing something different than they do. If you were to change the wording in the article just a little bit, it could refer to any type of passion that a person has…being an avid NFL fan, being a musician, an artist, and a writer or journalist. People are different and enjoy various interests. If we were all the same, how boring this life would be!

Ali K. @ Hit the Ground Running

The WSJ article annoyed me when I first read it, but I quickly shrugged it off. It takes so much energy to hate on people whose hobbies are different than your own, and I’d rather use that energy to run!

I have a 13.1 sticker on my car as a wave to other runners; seeing them on cars makes me feel like I’m part of a big secret club 🙂 A big secret club that’s super welcoming to others.

I saw a response from the editor of Competitor, and he invited the WSJ author to try running before he knocked it; I doubt we’ll see it happen, because people that pompous kind of hate to eat their words.


You’re dang right I want people to see me, whether on the road (so I don’t get creamed by a car, mostly) or at the mall in my various race shirts. I want to be seen as a runner everywhere because I am overweight, have mild asthma and a bunch of aches and pains from being on the earth for 35+ years. I want people to see me and think, if that short, slow, little chubby girl sucking on an inhaler can run 10k, then maybe I can run around the block… And, as we all know, once you can run around the block, you start to believe you can do anything!


Mae, I LOVE your comment. I agree with everything written in the above posts but in the end, why does it matter why we run? We are exercising in a nation battling obesity. So who cares if you are running to get noticed. We all need to learn that there is no “correct” answer to the question, “why do we run?” And if you ran any distance, even a 5k, you deserve to brag about it via a bumper sticker. Anyone who disagrees is just jealous. So go ahead and BRAG. Nice article Jessica!


Thanks Angie. And thanks for sharing your perspective. You are so right that everyone runs for different reasons. That is what makes it so special.


I know this is an old post but I just wanted to drop in since I’d never read it until you linked it in your 2 year birthday post, to say one thing: running makes me feel invisible. Runners are so commonplace these days (at least in my city) that people don’t actually notice us. I’ve been and gone before anyone can think properly about me. Sometimes it’s actually nice to run past guys on the street and not have them even see you properly when you know there’d be catcalling and whistles if you just walked past normally.