In Defense Of Race Distance Stickers

You've seen the stickers on the backs of cars. Small white ovals declaring 13.1, 26.2, or other distances run by the driver of the car. Lots of non-runners claim these are obnoxious, and we should quit bragging. So should we be ashamed? My answer is NO.

April 5, 2016
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These days, everyone has an opinion on nearly every topic, and with the popularity of the internet, we all have a sounding board where we can share our opinions. Runners are clearly not immune to this phenomenon. As a result, we are constantly bombarded with people’s opinions about what we do and why we do it. One trending topic I’ve seen and heard a lot about lately is a topic so highly controversial, I hesitate to even write about it now. Are you ready for it?

Running stickers on the back of your car. 

*Gasp* Oh the horror and strife these little stickers—declaring our accomplishments to the rest of the world in the form of numbers such as “13.1” or “26.2”—cause our non-running counterparts! What horrible, self-righteous people we must be to boastfully drive around town, rubbing our accomplishments in everyone else’s faces!

All right, maybe I’m being slightly (incredibly) over dramatic, but the complaints are legitimate: there was a Wall Street Journal article slamming people who display the stickers. Or check out this blog post that went viral and inspired a ton of open letters and blog post retorts. Both angrily call out runners as boastful and self-centered simply for posting these distance stickers on their cars.

Normally I would simply turn my head the other way regarding such a silly topic. But recently I had a client finish her very first half marathon, and she expressed some concern and shame over wanting to put a “13.1” sticker on the back of her car. I was saddened that she truly felt embarrassed by wanting to share her accomplishment with the world. So I told her the following, and I’m going to share it with you as well.

You’ve earned it. From a young age, we are all taught not to boast or brag about our accomplishments. But I personally believe there is a huge difference between bragging and being proud of the things we have worked hard for. Training for and racing a long distance run isn’t something just anyone could do. If they could, they would have by now, but as it stands, only a very small portion of the population has completed a half marathon, marathon, or beyond. You should be proud of such a feat!

Self expression. People put bumper stickers on their cars for nearly every topic imaginable. Politics. Sports. Declaring how much they love their German shepherd. Why can’t you put a sticker with a number on it—one that lets all other running enthusiasts know “Hey, I’m a runner too”? Frankly, out of all of the bumper stickers I’ve seen in my lifetime, an oval circle with the number “26.2” on it is probably the second least offensive kind, right behind the “my kid is an honor roll student” stickers.

You never know who you might inspire. People are always watching. A co-worker, neighbor, or some other acquaintance may see the sticker and strike up a conversation about running. Next thing you know, they are contemplating whether they could ever accomplish such a feat. Or maybe the complete stranger driving behind you has always been curious about running a half marathon, and seeing your sticker is the last tiny push they needed to sign up for that race. That sticker could change a life. That may sound far fetched, but I totally believe it is possible. You just never know.

Finally, this one may sound like it came straight from an elementary school playground, but…

Who cares what others think anyway? More often than not, the people who are the first to criticize are those who have some sort of insecurity themselves. The people who claim to be bothered or offended by your stickers are likely the ones who fear they could never do such a thing themselves. Or maybe they simply just don’t understand your love for running. Whatever the case, their opinions of running only affect your love for running and your accomplishments if you let them.

Don’t let them. 

Run on, my friends. And don’t forget to add those stickers to your car so I can wave enthusiastically as I drive by.

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