On the Subreddit r/running, you'll often find people lamenting how slow they've gotten as they've gotten old. (And "old," more often than not, is 30 or so.) "How can I stay motivated to run," they whimper, "when my personal records are all behind me?" Others then typically suggest trail running or distance running, versions of the sport that are more amenable to "older" runners. Reddit is, um, an interesting window into one element of the running community — what motivates a certain segment of it to run — and how some athletes' identities are very much wrapped up in speed, in winning, in bodies that are young and strong and yeah probably white and male.

On Thursday morning, I lined up with some 2200 other runners in Oakland to run the annual Turkey Trot. I was running with some of the students from RBO, and we were fairly near the front of the crowd, following the instruction: "faster runners to the front, slower runners to the back." One of the RBO coaches pointed to a small group of runners in white singlets and cautioned the students to not try to match their pace — those were the runners from the Oakland Track Club, many of whom are former college athletes, and they'd probably finish the 5K in 15 minutes or so. (That said, some of the young boys I was running with wouldn't be that far behind; but indeed, runners from OTC were the first man and first woman across the finish line.) When the gun went off, there was a frenzied surge of weaving and elbowing, as one's self-designation as "faster runner" came face-to-face with the reality of faster runners (and, just as likely, the reality of pushy assholes).

I'd told myself I wasn't going to go "all out" on this race. I don't normally run on Thursdays. As such, I was looking at a week with not just more running, but more intense running — and it's not the loss of speed that worries me as I age; it's the struggle with recovery. But it was a beautiful Thanksgiving Day. It was the last RBO event of the season. And it's so easy to get swept up in the adrenaline. So I didn't just run; I raced. I PR'd, coming in second in my age group and breaking the 8'/mi pace marker that my PT had set for me as my 2023 5K goal. (My time was 24:38, so 7'56"/mi.)

I'm thrilled that I've gotten faster, and I do think I can probably get a little bit faster still, despite my age. But my goal right now is not speed; it's distance.

That said, a new PR meant I could revisit a pace calculator, which informed me I can aim for a sub-two hour half. (13.1 miles still feels overwhelming at any pace, if I'm honest.) It also reminded me that I should be doing most of my running, particularly my longer-distance running, at a much, much slower pace: between 10' and 11'/mile.

Saturday was the second run of the 2023 LMJS Marathon Training program; half-marathon trainees like me only ran 4 miles, which is a couple fewer than I have been doing on my long runs, but as I'd raced on Thursday, I was perfectly fine with the cutback. I ran with the 10-minute-mile pacing group, a group whose average age, I'd reckon, was fairly close to my own.

Although people speak of "the running community," it's hardly monolithic. The members of LMJS skew older (and interestingly, many of them ran the Piedmont Turkey Trot rather than the Oakland one, which one could surmise the group — and/or affinity for the group — skews whiter and wealthier). The members of the Oakland Track Club, as I said, are former college athletes. Reddit users — and I'd wager the make-up of the r/running subreddit is similar — tend to be white, male, and between 20 and 30 years old. There's quite a bit of racial and ethnic diversity among the students who participate in RBO, but I'm not sure it quite matches that of, say, the Oakland Public Schools' population; there are far more white and Asian students at RBO practices, for example, than in the local school system and a far bigger gap between the number of boys and girls.

Runners like to say that the running community is welcoming, that anyone can participate. But it's crystal clear that there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which people are discouraged from running, let alone joining "the community."

I've been thinking a lot about "the community" this week — what it looks on- and offline, how challenging it can be technically and culturally to join one — not only as I ran and volunteered with various groups running groups, but as Kin worked to set up his own Mastodon server… and then worked to set up one for me too. What exactly do we mean by the term? What do we expect from "community" — from others, from ourselves? How easy is it to join? (How easy is it to leave?) How do we know if we're welcome? How do we know if it's really truly built with us in mind? How do we know if "community" — this one or that one or the other one — is what we really want or need right now?

Audrey Watters


Audrey Watters


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