Crabs in a Bucket

I have to admit: for a long time I didn’t really see running as my thing. I ran for exactly one reason: shame. I ran my first marathon as a bucket list item. I turned thirty and thought: man, I’m an adult. Adults run marathons. I should run a marathon. 


By Kristina Pattison

I didn’t run my first marathon well, or train for it, but I finished that cruel coming-of-age party like it was my job.

At that time, most of the runners I knew seemed snobby and self-absorbed. Still basking in some imaginary glow from high school and college track or cross country efforts, they would avoid fun runs with disgust. (Or come and stay two steps ahead like Jenn Shelton’s ex-boyfriends.) Soon, after my first marathon, a “runner friend” pointed out she took podium in a bigger race in her first marathon. Later, I did well at my first ultra, and my “runner friends” pointed out the field wasn’t very competitive. The next year, I broke a course record in my second ultra, and a “runner friend” used it as an opportunity to reflect on how slow ultra runners run. A couple years later, I got my first sponsor and one of my “runner friends” mentioned enthusiastically her other friend just got sponsored by The North Face. (With a capital The.)

In fact, I secretly kind of hated runners for a long time. I certainly didn’t identify with them. The silly magazines with all the weight loss tips. The focus on fashion over hard work. The iconic runner body with no muscle: all bones and skin. It was like a cult more than a culture, and it really didn’t seem very sexy to me. Is that even healthy? Do your shorts have to match your shoes? Why does everyone wear the same style shorts? Is there an unsung rule about having new clothes all the time? 

When people ask me if I’m a runner, I generally try to shy away from the topic with some self-deprecating pith about being slow and fat. (*Note: this is an effective strategy with “runner friends” who will not argue.)

All these years I’ve been resenting runners, expecting some low jab to the gut or a kick in the throat if I answered a question about a race. Expecting the people I trust or look up to the most to say or do some condescending, self-centered thing, I would always get let down by meaningless fluff.

But something just recently shifted in my world like I opened a stuffed closet and a bunch of random memorabilia fell on my head. I started taking a look at the good memories: the unexpected victories, the random run-ins with amazing runners who were more humble the more impressive their results, and all the encouragement I’ve gotten from true friends. (Who happen to run really, really well I might add). I started realizing for every crabby “runner” there is, there happens to be at least a hundred awe-inspiring real runners out there busting butt to improve for the sake of improvement.

Life is full of self-centered people. A good friend told me an analogy about crabs in a bucket. If one crab gets to the rim, the other crabs will pull him back down again trying to get themselves out. So crabs can never escape a bucket. I’ve seen this often in school, work, athletics, everywhere. But it doesn’t mean you have to succumb. (The friend who told me this ran a 55km mountain race for his first ultra ever–actually his first race ever–and crushed it.)

Time to let go of the shame of being a runner, the fear of failure, and especially the fear of success. Time to embrace the role, accept the responsibility to make each day your best until the best days add up to the best years and the best years add up to the best life. Don’t let the crabs pull you back into the bucket. There is no past: it is only a memory. There is no future: it is only an idea. There is only now so live it.

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