I like to think of myself as a peaceful person, a man intent on deflecting tension and maintaining an inner sense of calmness. This tendency is pursued in my relationships with others too, be they personal or professional. The words of St. Paul underscore this aim. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Unfortunately, living at peace with everyone is a difficult undertaking for anyone. Moreover, as a distance runner who frequently traverses the sidewalks and streets of the surrounding cities on foot, I’m constantly jockeying for position amidst the constant presence of automobiles that never seem to cease. Consequently, peace tends to be replaced with discord.
A recent Runner’s World article describes this penchant among athletes. It’s called run rage, and it transforms mild-mannered pedestrians into angry grouches much like Mr. Walker and Mr. Wheeler in the 1950 Goofy cartoon Motor Mania. Everyone’s favorite dog morphs into a deranged monster as he transitions from the sidewalk into the front seat and subsequently proceeds to drive like a deranged lunatic unconcerned with his actions. What can runners take from this indicting article and disturbing depiction of Goofy?
First, admitting run rage is wise, perhaps beneficial for the soul. Chris Coon, profiled in the Runner’s World article, is – wait for it – a pastor in Chicago. But poor race organization, unhelpful course volunteers, and cars that fail to acknowledge his presence draw the unsettling ire of reverend Coon. He’s been known to flip the bird and yell obscenities in response to the aforementioned situations. While I can understand his valid frustrations, details can sometimes fall through the cracks as all people are prone to mistakes from time to time. Grace towards others, however, can go far.
Second, running is rhythm, and when this rhythm is disrupted by wily dogs or cantankerous cars that fail to recognize runners on the road, by accident or by choice, irritation comes swiftly. Unlike Chris Coon, I intentionally avoid select hand gestures or colorful language. My typical response usually takes the form of a prolonged stare that communicates equal parts amazement and exasperation. As someone who tends to let anger roll off my back quickly, I actually wonder if I would survive in a major city like Manhattan where friction between motorists and pedestrians is plentiful and potent. Maybe I’ll stick with the burbs.
Third, the Runner’s World article focuses on “four forces” that are part of run rage encounters, including biology, a sense of entitlement, identity issues, and the way news travels (think social media). I would add a fifth factor into this mix, a factor that tends to affect both motorists and runners alike. Distraction. Or more to the point – distraction by way of mobile phones. Phones repeatedly capture our eyes and mind. They lead us away from the task at hand and quickly interrupt our concentration.
In light of these lessons, how runners respond to run rage is critical. Peter Shankman of New York, also profiled in the article, decided to change his ways after being prone to vent regularly. “I used to scream at people walking through a race. Then one day, I realized I was being a complete tool – I realized it’s the endorphins of running that pushed me to scream, versus normal me who’d say excuse me and move myself.” I’m simply amazed at the former reactions of Shankman. If running is such a fun activity, why did he expend so much energy yelling at others who were simply running their own race at their own pace? Running should facilitate calmness and release.
In the book of James, these words readily stand out on the subject of fury. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” St. Paul affirms James. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
Should anger occupy a place in running? Maybe, provided it’s channeled into running with more intensity and not verbally sparring with someone to the point that it leads to physical altercations. Fighting has no place in running. Truth be told, I don’t know if I have met an angry runner before – not yet anyway. Running releases endorphins, the pathway to a happy feeling. Running facilitates joy in the progression of every step. Running is a way to push back against the anger that can easily well up inside.
So rage against the rage.