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Reforming Running Culture: By Paige Carter

Jan 24, 2021
Paige Carter (photo by Jesus Ramirez -- UCLA Athletics)

New Generation Track and Field

UCLA Cross Country and Track & Field student-athlete Paige Carter wrote the following article, "Reforming Running Culture", that was published in the first issue of the New Generation Track and Field magazine. We'd like to thank magazine Editor-in-Chief Ben Crawford for allowing Paige's work to be published on uclabruins.com.
 
Carter provided this statement to explain the pride she has taken in writing the article and the camaraderie developed from working with fellow runners to advance the sport of track and field:
 
"Sport, specifically running, has played an integral role in my life. Throughout the pandemic, however, running has become more than just a sport to me. Running has become a way to take care of my mental health and build relationships with others. Pushing the sport forward is something that I feel I owe to the sport for all it has done for me. Being able to write an article for New Generation Track and Field was a way to do exactly that. Having the opportunity to work with other runners within the community and write about ways the running community can come together to create a lasting and sustainable sport for all was definitely something close to my heart. I believe that the culture around running is super special and that every athlete within the sport should foster that culture and take a collective responsibility to speak up when different areas need reform."
 
Reforming Running Culture
By Paige Carter
 
There's something magical about the sport of track and field. There's something special about testing your body's limits among athletes who share the love for the sport. Despite how demanding track is, we welcome its challenges and enjoy pushing ourselves. Not just because we love to compete or love to run, but rather because the community around running is so special. By any ordinary person's standards, it must appear strange that we spend so much time running in circles simply trying to go faster. The lengths we go to achieve that goal must seem ridiculous. Yet we keep showing up because of the incredible community that has arisen from a shared understanding of that longing. Showing up for practice everyday, getting out the door for a long run regardless of the temperature outside, and hitting hard track reps is so much better because of teammates, friends, and fellow runners who understand what this is all about. 
 
Just because the culture is so special doesn't mean it doesn't have shortcomings that we should collectively take some responsibility for. As track and field athletes, we owe it to our community to invest in our sport's culture and speak up when we see areas that need to change. We must stay committed to creating a safe, healthy, and sustainable sport for all. If we're serious about having a long-term relationship with running and creating a lasting space for track & field in the sports world, then there are some elements of running culture that must be interrogated and discussed. 
 
Open dialogue and raw conversation are one pathway to culture change. It's our sport to shape, and we must take that responsibility seriously. Here are some places we can start:

Drop the Watch. Not everything has to be posted to Strava. Strava and other social media platforms have helped to bring together the running community. In fact, I highly encourage staying connected with one another on these platforms. They often serve as a source of inspiration and a way to hold ourselves accountable. But Strava isn't harmless. While sharing training details can sometimes be liberating and motivating, it also can leave runners feeling vulnerable and insecure when training may not be perfect or exactly as they envisioned. It's easy to fall into the trap of constant comparison when viewing others' paces, heart rate, and mileage. We can't let sharing our training through apps, like Strava, negatively influence our own journeys through the sport. We should acknowledge that we all have different goals and unique pathways to achieving them. We must first assess how we use these platforms and then change our mindsets to use them in a healthy way. If necessary, we can throw it back to the old school days and drop the watch altogether. Don't be afraid to not post your run and reconnect with why you love the sport aside from the reductive and quantified results.

Let's Keep Track in the Game. As a running community, we truly understand how incredible our sport is. We understand how taxing it is, we know how rewarding it can be, and we have nothing but appreciation for the community it has created. When we saw Kipchoge's 1:59:40 marathon effort, for example, as runners we instantly recognized the unfathomable pace he ran across 26.2 miles, and we instantly appreciated the endless miles and incredible commitment required to achieve such an accomplishment. We immediately applauded the grit that it takes to accomplish such an extraordinary feat. As runners, we get it. 

But we have to ask ourselves, why is this love, appreciation, and understanding for track and field not common among all sports fans? Why do Sunday night football games have millions of viewers, and yet we can't say the same for track races? We know how special our sport is, so why is it so hard for others to see? What's lacking from our sport and culture that's other more visible sports have? While there are many potential answers to these questions, what's important is addressing what we can and hopefully inspiring change. 

As professional track and field athletes face significantly smaller sponsorship deals compared to other professional athletes, streaming and membership costs prohibit accessibility to our sport. There's a lack of recognition for our sport's Olympians, professionals, and public figures in track and field. We have to assess our own culture to see what we can do to create a more sustainable sport, one that values its athletes enough to support them while they try to reach their fullest potential. 

There are many actions we can take to help to ameliorate these problems in our sport. Whether it's promoting big meets to other sports fans or giving back to the sport as a coach or mentor to inspire the youth to continue running. It could be sharing your journey on social media platforms, like Instagram or YouTube, to show the broader sports community that track and field is full of athletes with personality, unwavering work ethic, and a genuine love for what we do. 

What if we thanked our bodies instead? Sometimes we give in to negativity without even realizing it. We often make unnecessary comparisons when scrolling through social media or looking up our competitors' race results. We can overthink and overanalyze when a workout doesn't go as planned. We're often quick to compare and criticize our own bodies. I think it's time to flip that narrative. Our bodies have allowed us to do incredible things. We've run so many miles. There have been times when we've run much faster than we'd previously ever imagined. I think it's time we start thanking our bodies for what they've allowed us to do. Instead of wishing we looked a certain way, let's spend time thanking our bodies for where we are. Instead of comparing our body type, muscles, and unchangeable features to other runners, let's normalize being comfortable with our own bodies and grateful for what they allow us to do. After those repeats, thank your legs. After a long run, thank your lungs. After a weight session, thank your core. After some time, the gratitude will become standard and replace the criticisms and comparisons, making way for new possibilities. Eventually, you'll start to realize how much your body really does for you. 

Normalize talking about the hard stuff. We often embrace challenges in running, but don't always embrace 01hardship outside of running. Let's normalize talking about the hard stuff. Runners across every level have demonstrated that talking candidly with one another and sharing their stories can remind them that they aren't alone in their struggles. Let's begin to really look out for ourselves, our teammates, and our friends. Let's be more open about our mental health, eating disorders, injuries, and other challenges we face. Let's have open minds and open hearts. Together, if we can tackle the hard stuff in an open and honest way, we can create a safer, more transparent, and healthier sport for all.