Classism, Stigma and Long Distance Running

This is going to sound horribly crass, but I keep thinking that only rich people are supposed to be about long distance running.   I keep thinking that we poor people are supposed to be wasting all our money on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol in order to cope with all the miseries of poverty.

But as I analyze that sentiment, I begin to wonder about it.  Let’s cite three specific wonderments, for the record.

(1) Why on earth would I be relating something so simple as health and fitness to financial status?   

Well, I think it’s safe to say that criminalization of the poor is a real phenomenon.  Impoverished people in our society are not only criminalized by those who are well-off.  We are criminalized by some of the very poor people we find in our midst.

Often, when I mention to someone in my financial bracket that I am going on a “run,” the word “run” is interpreted differently than I intended.

“A food run?” one might ask, supposing I’m about to go to the Food Bank or grocery store.

“A drug binge?” one might ask, since a “run” is colloquial for a bender.

When I tell them what form of running I mean, I have sometimes heard this reply: “You’re not going to see me running anywhere, unless I’m running from the law.”

Why is it that when a poor person is seen running, it is associated with running from the law?

For one thing, I don’t exactly have fine Nike shoes and Gore-Tex running suits.  I run in my normal duds, wearing old beat up shoes with holes in the soles.  I’m lucky if I even own a single pair of shorts for that matter.  The ones I run in now have tears in the sides.  But hey – how much of a priority is it to get good running clothes when one goes broke midway through every month?   At the risk of further crassness, let’s get real.

If a person is a bit better off, they can afford expensive running gear, and expensive race registrations, for that matter.  Not so with the poor folks.   So we have the association of visible poverty with criminality.  This cannot be overlooked — but let’s move on to the second question.

(2) Who dictates what one is “supposed” to be doing in the first place?   

While this is a very important question, I don’t think it warrants much extra analysis.  Once a person is a grown adult, no longer under parental guidance, no one dictates what that person is “supposed” to be doing.

No one but God, that is — and even in the case of God’s “dictates,” there is plenty of grace and room for personal preference.   The idea that poor people are “supposed” to be spending all their money on cigarettes and alcohol is only a social stigma.   That many poor people do smoke is quite true, and quite sad.  Cigarettes cost a lot of money, and poor people do not have that money.  But cigarettes are also very highly addictive, and that addiction is hard to break — for rich and poor alike.

(3) Is poverty really all that “miserable?” 

Personally, I don’t associate poverty with misery.  I associate poverty with inconvenience.   But inconvenience and misery are two different things.

Say I have a number of errands to do, as I did yesterday.   Say my bicycle is in the shop, as it was yesterday.  The errands take a great deal of time.   At one point, a drug store that I was depending on turned out to have gone out of business.  I then balked at making it all the way over to the next nearest drug store, which was miles away.   All of this stuff is inconvenient.

But was I miserable once I had finished my errands?   Not at all!  To the contrary, I felt great satisfaction in getting them all accomplished, even though the process was time-consuming.   In fact, if I had a car, I would be paying for upkeep and maintenance, if not car payments.   The bicycle consumes more time than a car, but it’s a wonderful way of getting around — given good weather conditions — and one gets one’s daily exercise in the process.   It also points to the beauty of the “middle place” – that beautiful place where one finds a healthy balance between extremes.

The Bible makes it clear that many blessings are afforded to poor people.   And no one relates God’s blessings to misery.  In fact, the words “happy” and “blessed” are interchangeable in Old Testament languages.   The words “Blessed are the poor” appear verbatim in the Gospel According to Luke, and slightly qualified in the Gospel According to Matthew.   The words “blessed are the rich,” on the other hand, are nowhere to be found.

Now the Word does say: “The rich and the poor have this in common: The LORD is Maker of them all.” (Ecclesiastes 22:2.)  This is one of many fine Scriptures, along with Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28, that point to egalitarianism.  (Even the Scriptures suggesting that women are to be submissive to their husbands are usually followed by Scriptures suggesting that husbands ought to be submissive to their wives — but for some reason we don’t like to look at those parts.)

Outside of Scriptural documentation, common sense suggests that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and that we should be equal in the eyes of each other.  In my opinion, the only people who need to be robbed of certain rights to liberty are hardened criminals who should remain behind bars, as they would otherwise remain threats to society.   But whether one is rich or poor — or anywhere in between — does not alter their essential humanity.  We have a lot more in common with people in other social classes than we think.   We are all human.

The Bible does however go a bit harder on the wealthy.   There are scores of warnings delivered in the Word to those of high stature.   James 5:1 and Mark 10:5 come to mind immediately — but there are many others as well.  On the other hand, very few warnings are delivered to the poor.  In fact, the Prayer of Agur is just about as close as they come:

Two things I ask of You—
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me.
Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the bread that is my portion.
Otherwise, I may have too much
and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
profaning the name of my God.
—  Proverbs 30:7-9

This also points to the beauty of the middle class: the middle class that is gradually disappearing from our social structure.   We have recently seen billionaires in the Cabinet.   Decent people — I repeat, decent people — are strewn about the streets of Seattle and San Francisco, drowning in a culture that no human being should be forced to endure.

But in the middle place there is balance.  One will neither think of God as unnecessary, nor curse God for apparent failure to provide.

If this new job works out — which so far, I am sad to say, it does not appear to be — I may be able to reach that middle place.   If not, the words of St. Paul still ring true:

“For we brought nothing into the world, neither are we able to carry out anything. But having sustenance and coverings, with these we will be content.”  — 1 Timothy 6:8

There is a certain measure of comfort in that directive.   That comfort may be felt by anyone who is human, and who believes.   But to equate a quest for greater health and fitness with having the money to afford high quality health food and fancy running gear is to miss the mark.

Digest the Word.  Soak it in.  Find in the Word the Beauty and Truth thereof.   “It will bring healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.”  — Proverbs 3:8

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9 thoughts on “Classism, Stigma and Long Distance Running

  1. I suppose the harder it is to meet basic needs, the more likely it is that someone will be miserable, but that’s not entirely dependent on income. Perhaps having the time and the interest in self-care to run for wellness is considered by some to have an element of luxury? I think local culture dictates additional shoulds beyond broader societal shoulds. Here, it seems like everyone and their dog runs. Every female and their dog wears yoga pants. I’m abnormal for not eating sushi. None of those things apply in the town where I grew up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. I wanted to insert an anecdote about how I got stopped by the cops when I was running in a poor part of town, but the post was getting kinda long. And of course, there is the story of Ahmaud Arbery.

      I tried to get statistics as to what the average runner makes per year, but I couldn’t find anything other than in the British Isles, the equivalent of $25,000 USD. That’s still poverty level over here, and so it doesn’t specifically equate “health and fitness” with the upper class.

      I think there actually is an association of avid long distance running with a more leisurely or luxurious lifestyle. Training for marathons is time consuming, and most hard working people do not have the time. But I think that the association of health and fitness with the upper class in general is gradually waning.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read some stuff about runners from Kenya recently. Apparently, long distance running is so engrained in their culture that it crosses over all social classes. Little girls run six miles to their grade schools with their backpacks on in the mornings. Even Olympic athletes in training run twelve miles at the beginning of every morning — before doing ANYTHING ELSE — and do not even count it as part of their training.

        Kenyans also report that when they are not running, they sit undeneath trees and eat fresh fruit in the shade.

        I don’t know much about it beyond that, but it strikes me as a very interesting culture.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think there’s one other factor at play that relates economics and running. If, for example, you’re a single parent working two jobs to provide for a kid or two, when are you going to go out running and how much energy are you going to have to do it? If you have a shitty hourly-pay job and the only way you can make ends meet is by working extra hours and overtime, when are you going to run?
    One other thing I thought of while reading this is that in some parts of this country it appears that running while black can be a risky venture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree Ken, and this is why I mentioned Ahmaud Arbery in the thread with Ashley. As I also mentioned, running is time-consuming — at least at the serious training level — so it tends to be associated with a life of leisure, because who else has the time? And, as you suggest, this factor is aggravated the more one is forced to work extra hours to make ends meet.

      I do happen to notice that I find more runners among employed people in the middle to upper middle class than I do among those in poverty and disability culture. I am not sure why this is — and it’s only an empirical observation. Maybe it relates to the blinding effect of social stigma, or to a form of peer pressure, and/or other factors. But I do often feel like the “odd man out” by being a runner in my particular social groups.

      The disparity of that is pleasantly balanced out by the fact that once I’m on the roads, embracing the camaraderie of other runners who could care less what my social status is, all of these concerns seem to dissipate. Maybe I should join a running club and find a new social group. Probably worth a shot.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just getting back to the running duds, Andy. I often notice what ‘gear’ supposedly serious runners are kitted out in – same for cyclists – when I’m out and about on the roads. It’s like if you dont wear the gear, you’re not a ‘proper’ runner, jogger, cyclist. It’s all about materialism and consumerism at the end of the day. Making money about of yes, probably the middle classes, who can afford and want to be in fashion. My bike is a second hand mountain bike, over 15 years old, but perfectly functional, my walking/jogging gear is what i feel comfortable in, but decent shoes cos I have to look after my feet. I live in a rural area so no one really sees me much in the fields, but I’d stand out elsewhere becasue I wouldnt be wearing the ‘right’ duds! Enjoyed this!

    Liked by 1 person

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