There are a lot of haters out there picking on runners. (See Chad Stafko's Wall Street Journal article here. And Mark Remy's response at Runner's World here.) They say the running stickers on our vehicles represent a smug and elitist attitude. Hmm... Sounds like someone is a little defensive. But there is a valid point buried under that mountain of misguided anger.
The sticker itself is a boring and benign set of numerals. The growing discord between runners and non-runners is not over what the stickers say, but what they symbolize. Is the 13.1 sticker a race memento? Is it a brag for others to envy? Or is it simply a reminder that you discovered something meaningful and wonderful in your quest to complete a half marathon?
Is it wrong to promote a healthy life choice in numeric form? Should we feel bad about feeling good? Absolutely not. We might even inspire others to strive for a goal they thought was unattainable.
But, let's face it, as a society we share too much. I don't need to see a decal indicating the ages and names of your kids, dogs, cats, and current relationship status. It doesn't bother me, but it should bother you. What's next? A decal that shows your net worth? When will we see a golden 1M decal set on a black background?
If that 1M decal seems offensive, you now understand people's anger over running stickers. It quantifies your accomplishment in a way that makes others feel worse about their situation, or just angry with the fact that you seem so happy about yours. It's runner envy, really.
Should we downplay our accomplishments and be more politically correct? Runners with stickers often say it's about them, and nobody else. Maybe it should go on the refrigerator instead.
I don't have a running sticker on my vehicle. For me, it minimizes my accomplishments. My races were rich, vibrant, life-changing experiences that cannot be reflected in a cold, numeric, one-size-fits-all decal. Or maybe it's just my reticent personality.
Running stickers are a call for attention. They scream "look at me!" and invite public opinion and comment. As Cat Stevens said, "If you want to sing out, sing out." Just know that not everybody will love your song.
But, hey, it's just a sticker.