Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Vive La Difference

What Sets Us Apart

Published March 29, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

During a recent visit with friends, I divided my attention between two conversation groups: runners and commoners. At various times during the evening, discussion among runners caused the commoners to stop and listen. I wasn't sure if the expressions on their faces were those of disgust or awe, but it gave me a greater appreciation for the differences between the lives of runners and commoners.

The commoners talked about new cars or plans for their next vacation. The runners talked about their next race, the odds of getting any sleep the night before, and the chances of placing in their age groups.

The commoners compared stories of their latest ailments. The length of the wait in doctors’ offices made good conversation. The runners compared pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medicines, and checked their supplies for next day's workout. While commoners worried about hypertension and stress, runners fretted about chapped lips and black toenails.

When it came to man’s best friend, the commoners complained about the barking from their neighbors’ dogs and the unwelcome packages they left on their lawns. Dogs created a different problem for the runners, who compared notes on which dogs were biters and which dogs were chasers. They also discussed the latest fashion for running with their dogs, and contrasted waist harnesses to hand-held leashes.

When we paused for refreshments, the runners loaded up on desserts and black coffee. The commoners diluted their decaffeinated coffee into dessert, and suffered the indignation of thin slices of fat-free coffeecake. Everyone talked about drinking water throughout the day -- the runners to keep hydrated and the commoners to stave off hunger.

On the social scene, the commoners talked about their favorite TV programs and mirrored their lives to their fictional heroes. Nevertheless, they complained about the frequency of fast food commercials in the final fifteen minutes of each program. For their part, runners wondered out loud about the weather and its affect on a planned interval workout or a tempo run.

The commoners bragged about their children's accomplishments in football or soccer, and celebrated the practice schedules that kept them busy. The runners lamented how their sons or daughters almost beat them in a recent 5K, and examined the wisdom of racing at longer distances.

As the change in seasons brought a detrimental change in the shape of many commoners, it also brought treadmills and cross-training to runners. While the commoners counted the pounds gained in winter and dreaded every holiday, the runners counted the laps in a workout as they munched on cookies, and looked forward to racing on holidays.

The most revealing discussion came when the group talked collectively about their accomplishments and what made them proud. One couple had celebrated a milestone anniversary; a woman had changed careers and was content with life; another had sent off all the children. Around this time, a runner casually mentioned her plans to break the national record in the mile the following weekend. The conversation stopped.

Jack Daniels figured prominently in the moments that followed. As the commoners looked for the liquor by that name, the runners discussed the physiologist and his latest running book. The record-contender hastily clarified that Daniels’ new training program has helped her shave seconds off all her PRs.

As the conversation diverged and the munchies vanished, I realized it was getting late, and remembered the need for quality sleep before the morning run.

So, what makes us run? Is it the fulfillment in the midst of emptiness? Is it the victory over strong winds and a weak will? Is it the proud control over body and soul? It is the confidence in every step and every challenge? Or is it just the smell and feel of Vaseline and Ben-Gay, or the joy of resembling drowned rats and smelling worse? May be all of that. Just may be the free spirit that lives in a runner’s body sets us apart from the crowd.

Runners. Yeh, we're different.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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