Running Away from Bumper Stickers

by Elison Alcovendaz

Okay. I see you getting in shape. I see you training for marathons. I see some of you completing half marathons. I see some of you even completing a full marathon. And I'm impressed. I'm impressed with your toned body. I'm impressed you're comfortable enough to wear shorts that short in public. I don't mean that facetiously. Unless it's on a basketball court or toward a second plate of chicken adobo, I'm not running. I hate running. So I am thoroughly amazed at anyone who not only wants to run, but also pays to do so, and then actually goes out and completes the race. 

But can you stop running for a moment so we can talk about the stickers? You know which ones I'm talking about:

 

13.1.png

Or, if you're truly hard core:

 

If you didn't know, 26.2 is the length of a marathon and 13.1 is half of one. People who've completed those distances sometimes put a sticker on the bumper of their car to, oh, I don't know, motivate themselves? At least that's the rationale I've heard from my friends whose cars wear such stickers proudly. But let's be honest. Yes, perhaps you were in terrible shape and lost some weight and found running and now you've completed your first half marathon. And if you're said person, I'm genuinely happy for you. I would've liked to have done the very same thing. Post about it on FB and at least it's only for your friends, people who care about you, who see it. Your friends should be happy for your accomplishment. But putting it on your bumper so the entire world sees it? That's not really about motivating yourself, is it? It's not like the symbolism of your tattoo, which means something to yourself. This is for everyone else to see. I DID SOMETHING AWESOME. LOOK AT ME, STRANGERS. 

I can't speak for the entire population of runners, but of those I know, I can split into two camps:

CAMP A:

These are the people who run because they have to. It's the only thing that keeps them sane. Or they do it to stay healthy for their spouses or their kids. Or they live off that runner's high. These are generally the people who run marathons but won't voluntarily tell you about it. They're doing it for the love and for themselves and for their families and that's about it. You won't see posts tracking their time or miles. Maybe they ran track in high school. They probably follow track and field in between the Olympics. CAMP A runners will not have bumper stickers on their car, and not just because they possibly ride a bike everywhere. 

CAMP B:

The preeners. Is there any sport or exercise more public than running? Everyone is fighting for attention now, whether on YouTube or Instagram or hey, how about the public streets? They love their taut bodies and they want people to see it. Or, they love how much weight they've lost and want you to see it. Whatever the rationale, the result is the same: BE SEEN. Anyone in Camp B will tell you there's a certain pride to running in public. You'll see these dudes running with their shirts off in the cold, the girls with low cut sports bras and perfectly done make-up. Not only do people get to see them run, but they also get to look at themselves in the mirror afterwards! CAMP B runners are not only likely to have 26.2 bumper stickers on their car, they are likely to show up to your party wearing some really tight shirt they received when they paid to run in a race. 

I'm obviously being narrow-minded here and perhaps a bit hypocritical. I mean, I am, in a sense, writing this blog to also BE SEEN. I get that. But I once heard that if you took an average person and trained them to either run a marathon or write a novel, either would be just as difficult, just "difficult" in different ways. That being said, how acceptable do you think it would be if novelists all over the place started having bumper stickers tracking their word counts? 10,000. 50,000. 100,000! Or maybe where you've been published. "School Literary Magazine." "Local Magazine." "The New Yorker." "Book contract." "New York Times Bestseller!" Yes, I think everyone would find that quite pretentious. 

Could you imagine if teachers had stickers for how many of their students went on to be successful adults (or maybe just added a gold star to their car for each one)? Or if social workers had stickers for how many people they've helped? Or if surgeons had stickers for how many successful surgeries they completed? Or lawyers for how many cases they've won? Or business owners for how much money they've made? Or your everyday worker for how many promotions they've had? Or readers for how many books they've actually read? Or stickers for how many degrees you have? Or for how many long words (palaverous, periphrastic, magniloquent) someone knew? If your answer is "that would be completely obnoxious," then I think you get where I'm going with this. 

Everyone should be proud of their accomplishments. And people should be celebrated for their accomplishments. My beef isn't with that. My beef is that as Americans, we are obsessed with the physical. We value physicality more than other things that should be just as important. Advertising how many miles you run, or how much weight you've lost, or how many mornings you got up super early to go to the gym, is not necessarily the issue for me; again, those are wonderful things. The problem is that those are socially acceptable and more "valuable" than other things. Jumping high and shooting a basketball well is more valuable than teaching a student. Running long distances is more desired than developing empathy by reading a book

Maybe this is because the physical - sports, running, the gym - happens in public while other things - teaching a student, reading, working on improving yourself as a person - happens in private. The rewards for a toned body are easily seen. Any TV commercial or magazine cover or advertisement will prove that. Or just look at all the people looking in the mirror when they work out at the gym. When you are more fit, people look at you differently. They take you more seriously. You are desirable because you've proven that you have strength and willpower. But how can someone "see" if you've put in the work to be a more generous, educated, creative, kinder person? Or instead of focusing on themselves, focused on helping other people as well. That takes work, too. And many would argue it's a more difficult kind of work as well. 

Despite all this, I know that I need to get in shape. I need to get healthy for myself, yes, but for Patty and also for any future family we may have. But if and when that happens, one thing you can be sure of is you won't see on my car a sticker showing how much weight I've lost... well, unless it's exactly 26.2 pounds. Those stickers are everywhere. I'm sure I can find one.