Runner’s World Review – Redemption of the Runningman

I’m an avid Runner’s World reader and have been for many years. Each month  I will pick one article from the magazine (suggestions welcome!) to discuss and we can kick around thoughts, opinions and reflections. We’ll stay one issue behind the most current so that non-subscriber’s can read along on the RW website.  It’ll be like a book club, except less Jane Austen and more sweat.  So grab a cup of Joe or tea (see, it is just like a book club!) and jump into the fray!

August 2012 – Redemption of the Runningman

The August issue offered many an interesting read,especially for all of you that may be training for a half-marathon, contemplating training for a half-marathon, or would never dream of running that far but are interested in what makes the people do something so seemingly uncivilized 🙂 However, the story that moved me to write this month was Redemption of the Runningman, which touched on some of the ugliest parts of the human psyche. Unfortunately, as I went add a link to the article, it turned out that RW did not put it online! Gah! So I guess this will be like a one of those book club months where you ran out of time to actually read the book but show up to the meeting anyway (um, hello, free cookies and tea!), BS your way through discussing it and mentally high-five yourself when it appears no one is the wiser! If you are one of those Type A’s who need to complete tasks so as to check it off your list (ahh, the check mark – gives me the warm fuzzies just thinking about it!) alternate options include reading your own copy (if you are a subscriber), reading it at the library or clicking on the link above, which leads to the Wiki entry about the runner at the center of this story and gives most of the information presented in the article.

Looooong story sorta short, this article tells the tale of a Brit named Robert Garside, who on his third attempt ran across the globe (just the fact that he kept trying impressed me!). He set out on October 20, 1997 in New Delhi, India and completed his 40,000 mile ( let’s take a second to contemplate that. Pick any distance that is manageable in your head, divide it into 40,000 and see what you come up with… for me, that would be 1,527 marathons or 1,291 commutes to work or running up and down the street I grew up on 200,000 times!) trek almost 6 years later on June 13, 2003 in the same city. This should be cause for major celebration, a huge binge on ice cream and at least a few recovery days, right?

I’d probably believe him based on the accent alone – gets me every time!

Not so fast. Turns out that during that time, there were quite a few bloggers and media folk in the running world who questioned his every step and whether he was completing the route as he claimed he was (in their defense, Garside had lied about a portion of an earlier attempt, so that did not help matters). This article is the story from the point of view of one of those journalists, Dan Koeppel.

You know how some people seem to be running from something (like me)? Well, the author of the article, Dan Koeppel, is running from himself – the Dan Koeppel of late 1990s that is. He joined in the runner’s version of a witch hunt (tangent: I wonder what the punishment would be in the runner’s version? No Body Glide on a humid day? Run  marathon with no water? And do the witch hunters wear breathable fabric as they set out in the night with Amphipod water bottles and headlamps instead of torches in hand?) and helped condemn Garside as a fraud.

Koeppel started writing an expose on Garside in 2004 but as he got to know the man and saw the evidence that he DID complete the run he ultimately wrote the RWarticle to help undo some of the damage he inflicted on Garside’s reputation. What damage? Although the Guinness Book of World Records eventually accepted his run into their archives, his accomplishment is tainted with the word “rested”, Guinnessese for a record that stands, but it not officially “promoted or published”. His reputation was permanently sullied by the unrelenting criticism and it was mentally taxing for him to handle. Imagine completing challenge like this, only to have every step picked apart by complete strangers.

The story is an excellent meditation on what happens to us mentally when we unfairly and wrongly accuse someone of an act when we have little proof of what actually happened. The reader is left with the impression that Koeppel will never fully forgive himself, no matter how many miles he runs or words he types to right the wrongs.

And this is what I (finally!) want to talk about today – what is it that drives us to criticize, condemn and accuse, especially in regard to things that do not directly impact us, or for which we have no actual evidence? It is such a peculiar, but common,  human characteristic and one that I thought about long after the story was over. I think part of it is because we have an innate sense of fairness and we hate seeing people “get away” with something. But I think there is more to it, since our attacks on one another can be quite savage and “righting a wrong” does not need to be so. Is it a residual behavior from our ancestral struggles for power among the tribes we roamed in? Or is it an integral part of being human that will always be with us, no matter how far we travel from our cradle in Africa?

As a person who looks at life through a science-tinged lens, I tend to think that all these behaviors have some thread that links them to our evolutionary history. Perhaps it is because we need these behaviors to attack people when they actually ARE in the wrong and an English gentlemanly conversation simply will not do. Perhaps it is to boost our own egos, which can be so critical in the fight for survival (and I mean that both in days gone by and today, where there are so many other types of “predators” to take us down). Maybe it is just Newtonian and for every action there must be an opposite and equal reaction – and in the emotional world of humans, that means for every bit of love, there is hate. For all the gratitude there is ungratefulness, for all the support, there is knocking down. It might be just be part of what makes us the messy, complicated species that we are.

The second part of the equation is what happens to us when we find out that we were wrong, that our actions hurt someone else and that there is nothing we can truly do to undo the damage. My impression is that Koeppel will live with his guilt for the rest of his life. Maybe this guilt is the check valve that is meant to keep our accusations fair – we know that if we are wrong, we will have to live with this unpleasant sensation which can be avoided as long as our accusations are true.

What do you think?

Does the idea of running around the globe appeal to you?

2 Comments

Filed under Runner's World Reviews

2 responses to “Runner’s World Review – Redemption of the Runningman

  1. Theories nicely postulated… I lean toward the ego thing as an important part of the explanation… others’ accomplishments serve to highlight one’s own lack thereof, and tearing someone down can seem to be an accomplishment in itself; It may be just that some find it quite satisfying to pop the figuratively engorged-tick-like swelled head of an accomplished, but also pompous and self absorbed “success story”; As pompousness and self absorption are in the eye of the beholder, there is likely always someone who will be inclined to backbite (or stab!), denigrate, or otherwise pull the successful down from their heights!

    • Also very nicely put, thanks for the comment Alf! It’s true, I think that there is some satisfaction when the person is arrogant, pompous, etc. which Garside might very well be. That was something I did not get a chance to write about (the post was already so long!) – Garside’s attitude. Although the author described him in sit downs as a good dude, during the time he was being harangued the most, Koeppel says he did not do much to help his own cause.All the players in this story are fascinating! David Blaikie, a Canadian ultra runner, was and is a major detractor of Garside’s, he’s an interesting cat to look up too!

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