Smug Runner Syndrome

As the proud owner of this:


I officially belong to the Smug Runner club.

BUT…in my defense, because I’m aware of my smugness that makes it slightly more acceptable, right?

You need to read this hilarious article, but here’s my favourite line: “Let me be the first to offer my hearty congratulations (to marathoners). I’d even offer to give them a pat on the back—once they’re done doing it themselves.”

Yep. Pretty much.

Smug Runner Syndrome (henceforth known as SRS) isn’t just an illness that befalls marathoners. Any runner can become a smug runner, or at least veer towards smug tendencies. I think it’s because running can lend itself to a sense of superiority – this feeling of, “Well, I just ran x amount of miles this morning while everyone else was sleeping. Go me!” Obviously, this isn’t a great mindset to adopt. Because while you were running, some other person may have been getting their three kids under the age of six ready for the day, or they were just getting home from an overnight shift at a factory, or even if they were still sleeping because they’re exhausted – who cares?!? Running doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else.

But I still fall into SRS occasionally. Usually after one of those epic runs where everything goes really, really well and you’re on that runner’s high and you just love the world and everyone in it including yourself – I hit a longer distance or I manage to get in a tough speed workout before work. I have this urge to shout out my distance from a balcony or hire a plane to write out my time in the sky or something (just kidding about that first one).

It’s obnoxious, let’s be honest. Because really, who else cares besides me? I’m lucky that my parents humour me and are actually very, very supportive of my running. When I was training last year for Gettysburg, they seemed genuinely happy to hear about my occasional updates, although I really tried to save my “guess what I just ran?” for the runs I was really, really excited about.

The thing is, it’s normal and awesome to be excited and proud about new accomplishments you hit while running. But it’s a very thin line before you cross into Smug Runner Territory, and that’s when you need to watch out.

Recently I ran with a group of runners and I was reminded of why I sometimes can’t stand my own breed. There were way too many comments like:

– “Since going gluten-free and dairy-free and giving up all alcohol, my wife and I have become much faster runners.”

– “No way, paleo is what works best.”

– “I’m just going to do a few extra miles after you guys turn around.”

– “Oh, you did a half-Ironman?” “No, just a half-marathon.” “Oh.”

– “My goal is to do the Norseman, the toughest Ironman in the world, before I’m 50. At the end all you get is a toque. It’s so much more rewarding than a medal.”

Okay, I think you get the idea. I’m sure SRS exists in plenty of sports and other hobbies too, but I also think there’s something about the mentality that makes a person become a long distance runner that also brings out this sanctimonious, ascetic streak.

Running can be a very selfish pursuit, especially endurance running and racing. Out of necessity, you become very inward-focused. That can be a good thing. You’re in tune with your body, both mentally and physically, in a way you never were before. You’re often very healthy (maybe TOO healthy). You become very disciplined (maybe TOO disciplined). It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you’re better than other people, and of trying to one-up other runners, of being the most intense, the most hardcore of the pack.

Here is how I (try to) combat SRS when I notice it creeping up in me:

– ask myself, “WHO CARES?” Besides myself and maybe two or three other people I know who love me and will therefore humour me, the answer is NO ONE. So don’t write some humble-braggy post on Facebook like, “Nothing like a good 10-miler before 8 a.m. to start the day off right! :)” That’s awful. Just no. It drives me insane when I see “friends” on social media feel the need to update everyone on how many miles they just did. Like I said above, sometimes I really, really want to tell people about a run but when I ask myself, “who else cares besides me?” 99% of the time I talk myself out of sharing.

– focus on something else I do that isn’t running. I love running but I don’t want it to become my entire life. There are other things I love too and I want to be a well-rounded person.

– try something new that I’m not good at. Right now, this is painting. I really love painting and being creative but the images I have in my mind are much harder to translate into actual, physical images on paper or canvas! It’s frustrating, but it is very humbling (um, every time I see a “masterpiece” I’ve tried to create I’m reminded of this!) and it definitely kills the smug.

– tell myself that there is nothing surprising or particularly awesome about me running. A) there are TONS of better runners out there than me so I’m nothing special and B) I’m in my twenties, am luckily injury-free, have no partner/children, and very few responsibilities beyond working and making loan payments SO of course I have time to run my little heart out. It’s not like I’m a single mom with five kids and three jobs and I’m still knocking out 50 miles a week. Jeesh.

Okay, so those are my tips for combating SRS, of which I definitely have a mild case. Anyone else out there with SRS? How do you fight it (or do you just buy more 26.2 stickers and embrace the smug)?


5 thoughts on “Smug Runner Syndrome

  1. Haha! This post is so funny. I love the piece of advice to try something you’re not good at (for me it’s “anything artistic” and “getting along with groups of people”, neither of which I currently engage in) Other activities that lead to smugness: cycling and cross fit jump to mind.

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