WHEN THE late, great George Sheehan took up running, neighbors asked his mortified children why their father ran around town in his underwear. This was in the 1960s, before Sheehan’s philosophical books helped to fuel the running boom. He’d be pleased to know that wearing underwear on public streets is now accepted, even admired; it’s running in tutus that has become the issue.
In the latest episode of tutu shaming, the editor of Self magazine had to apologize last month after her magazine mocked Monika Allen, a cancer survivor who ran the Los Angeles Marathon in a tutu. “I had no idea that Monika had been through cancer,” editor Lucy Danziger said.“It was an error. It was a stupid mistake.”
Let’s set aside Danziger’s presumption that a person’s cancer history should determine whether or not she is held up for ridicule; indeed, the cancer survivors I know are warriors who’ve faced down far worse threats than snarky magazines. The frou-haha over Allen’s outfit illustrates a deeper divide that has nothing to do with tulle and lace. It’s about who really owns road racing, and about who’s a “real” runner and who isn’t.
In no other sport do the underwear-wearing elites compete on the same asphalt, at generally the same time, as recreational athletes in tutus and capes. There are gradations of talent, of course, tactfully managed by staggered start times and chutes that ensure those with a real chance of winning run far ahead of those with a modest chance of finishing. But still, they’re all competing in the same race.
Imagine the company softball team taking the field with the Sox, and you’ll see how strange a concept this is. It’s not exactly “all comers” — certainly not at Monday’s Boston Marathon, where most of the field has met stringent standards. But count the charity runners, and it’s close. And while runners like to rhapsodize about how we’re only competing with ourselves and how every race is a match against our last chip time, we can never run far away from Darwin. Drink the milk of human kindness at every water stop, but there’s always some elemental affront accompanying those who pass us, whether on the road or the company ladder. The competition may not be cutthroat, but it simmers there, even among friends. Et tutu, Brute?
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