I’m in the final weeks of preparation for an early March marathon, and this will be my tenth 26.2 race. Some days my legs feel like pistons lifted from a Ferrari 488 GTB, pulsating up and down with a vibrant energy that simply will not cease. Other days they are rusty anchors from an aging ship, dropped to the sea floor with an audible thud. But I persist because runners run and legitimacy is what seems to steer my body from one workout to the next. I was reminded of this in a recent long run with a song by Stanley Kirk Burrell. He’s better known by his stage name, MC Hammer, and both he and I are unequivocally “2 Legit 2 Quit.”
Released as the first single from his fourth studio album Too Legit to Quit, this 1991 tune is a call to keep going, to persevere with fervent passion and explosive energy. As for the song’s performance on the major charts, it peaked at #5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play. MC Hammer is a talented dancer too; I, on the other hand, lack such rhythmic prowess. But what is running if not a dynamic dance in its own right? Shoes move along the sidewalks and the asphalt in a manner that is both arresting and amazing (see: Olympians on the track).
Back to that legitimacy question though. Is there a point in time when I became a legitimate runner? The only moment I can vividly recollect is my first marathon in 2008, which happened to be my first race. Other runners may trace their origin to a first race too, regardless of the distance. A race simply attaches a goal to lots of training. At its core, though, legitimacy as a runner can be summarized with this probing question: What is a real runner? Runners are often sized up by their physique (e.g. tall and thin), but the response to this question is more complex than height and weight measurements.
In the words of Anne Kymalainen, “To me, the true definition of a runner is not necessarily only that person with the thin legs and the short shorts running the sub-six minute miles, but a person who honestly feels a pull of sneakers to the road or trail.” After going a few days without running, be it on account of rest or work, I too feel the twitch to lift a pair of shoes from the garage shelf, lace them up tightly, and venture into the surrounding cities on foot. Running gets into the soul and lingers like a fine fragrance. Then again, that could be sweat.
Though many runners take up running to stake a sense of legitimacy for themselves, there are those that don’t identify as “runners” but still run on a sporadic basis. No race is part of the process; running is nothing more than a cardiovascular exercise that’s part of a wider fitness regimen. MC Hammer confirms this with a few lines from a verse in the song. “So roll with a guy who’s physical and fit; knows the time and too legit to quit.” Physical fitness is what matters, be it running, cycling, skiing, baseball, basketball, tennis, or lacrosse. Staying active is what matters.
Marc Parent, a columnist for Runner’s World, wrote on the nuances of being a newbie for six years. Like Anne Kymalainen, Parent also remarked on what the term “real runner” means in an August 2013 article. “You were allowed to call yourself a runner from the moment you began. You could call yourself a runner even as walkers passed you by. Distance, speed, and frequency didn’t matter as long as the effort was hard-fought and true.” He later pegged “little mounds of sweaty clothes in the bedroom” as the source of his authentication as a real runner. Dirty clothes marked him.
Although it didn’t live past the first season on FOX, my wife and I are slowly working our way through The Grinder (2015) on Netflix. Rob Lowe portrays Dean Sanderson, a television lawyer who believes that his experience on the now canceled show will be adequate to practice law in real life. If you ever watched Lowe as Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation (2009-2015), the character Dean Sanderson is a fantastic fit for him.
Dean appears to be the grinder at first glance, but his brother, Stewart (Fred Savage), is the actual grinder. Stewart is a licensed attorney who passed the Bar Exam in Idaho. Like Marc Parent’s mound of dirty laundry or Stewart’s attorney license, I wonder if runners need evidence to validate their legitimacy (think finisher medals). Dean made arguments in front of a camera while Stewart made them in front of a crowded courtroom. One had evidence in the Bar Exam results; the other had slick sunglasses and a stunning grin. As for my evidence as a real runner, I have lots of shoes, a Garmin watch, and a large bin of socks. But evidence aside, Stewart, Dean, Marc, Hammer, and even me are legit in our respective crafts. We are too legit to quit. Or is it inclined to keep at the grind?