A few decades ago the world of running in Portugal had a strong increase of practitioners who were seeking for a connection with running at a time when it was completely out of fashion. Resistant ones were criticized and heard less pleasant comments during their workouts, nevertheless they maintained their practice and caused a participant increase in some events such as the iconic Nazaré’s Half Marathon. We had practitioners who against everything and everyone engaged in a running regular practice in clubs and sports associations all over the country.
This spontaneous movement, largely boosted by a golden age of sport scores of the best Portuguese runners, was being lost over time, particularly during a period when the economic conditions in Portugal improved significantly. For the Portuguese population it started to make more sense to occupy their leisure time with other attractions than to engage with a regular sport or even “lose” time to run… Runners numbers have dropped visibly in contrast to what happened in other countries. Portugal stopped running.
More recently the proliferation of the internet, social networks and global access to information, has changed this reality. Everyone began to realize that the health of each of us depends on the involvement of people with a regular sport activity and as has happened in other countries, the Portuguese people were realizing that running could be an easier solution to change their lifestyles, to prolong their life and live each year with the highest quality possible. I believe that this change was mainly driven by the growing awareness of people that their health depends a lot more on their lifestyle than on the intake of medicines.
Fortunately the reality has changed. We have many more runners. We have many more diversity of running activities. We have more events that promote to a high standard the running practice . We have more education and training that lead people to join the practice of running without any prejudgement. We have more media involvement with the running.
Curiously, with all this growth associated with running, its expected a greater involvement of people with our sports references, more support for elite athletes and greater knowledge and assistance to those who risk everything to engage a true professionalization on running. Unfortunately that is not what we have seen…
I am particularly aware to the development of strategies to motivate people who for years have had a particularly unhealthy lifestyle, to find in the running an opportunity to significantly change their lifestyle by getting a positive impact on running and how it can give them their health and well-being back. For many years now I try to motivate people in these circumstances to change their lifestyle and to find in the running an unique opportunity to do it. However, I confess that it is with some apprehension that I see an excessive exaltation of the successes that some, who for years have a profoundly wrong lifestyle, are getting at some running events. Not that this should not be referenced as exemples of success, it actually can be particularly important to show the others what they can also achieve. What worries me the most is to see that there is less and less emphasis on the efforts of young people that from an early age decided to have a very particular lifestyle, free from excesses and with a regular sport practice by hugging elite sports lifestyle. Therefore, when we exalt the “heroic” effort of someone who has lost 30kg or 40kg weight or stopped smoking at the beginning of the running practice, shouldn’t we, at least, put on the same level of importance, those who always knew how to preserve a healthy style and a active life, embracing running with determination without wavering before the apparent comfort of inactivity? Or can it only be the example the ones who for years have committed huge blunders with their health? Given this, what exemple are we giving the youth? Can they choose to make deviations on their lifestyles and increase weight or become smokers because 40 or 50 years later they will be in time to reverse the negative effects that have developed over the years? Or should we not have a responsibility to show good examples of runners that for years were daily involved with a systematic practice and show the young that this is a care that they should have on a long term in their lives? Isn’t this the best route? Or the best example?
Of course I realize that for some media that began to take an interest for a very particular type of running, it becomes tempting to drive out to a very specific type of audience that can hypothetically guarantee an increased on the audiences and/or sales. I also understand that these success messages on the inversion of inappropriate lifestyles can work very well together on a population that remains largely inactive. However the truth is that the real examples of success are those who have never fell into the temptation of a sedentary lifestyle, those who went through several difficulties and knew how to preserve a systematic sports practice. The example is also on the professional runners, those who regardless of their sport level, developed a sports practice throughout life. Or aren’t these attractive as news? Is it only relevant that runner that from one moment to the other transforms himself from a sedentary to a marathon or ultra-marathon runner? Or those who choose overly extreme situations and by chance touch the risk of affecting their health? I would like to see more attention given to those who from an early age learned to define a route based on a particularly active and healthy lifestyle. I wish the “real” athletes were shown as true examples to the younger reinforcing systematic commitment to values throughout life. Understand what is gained by running when it is part of a young option is to encourage the youngest to embark on a similar path of accuracy and dedication that will bring long term benefits to them. Even if it has to use a competitive model to find motivations that lead them to a systematic practice. This terrible idea of seeing the elite running practitioners as something not be followed or promoted is to say to the youngest that it doesn’t make sense to devote ourselves in any professional field to the highest levels of performance and to be recognized for obtained successes. Why being a dedicated runner seems, increasingly, not to be an example to refer but a kind of an unattractive “oddball” unless they get a big international award? Why more and more speak to me about running projects that put aside these athletes, as the speed at which they run was seen as scandalously forbidden?
I naturally intend that recreational runners continue to be referenced as examples of success, even when they have spent long years having contrary lifestyles, as well as i would like us to give the maximum value to those young people who have engaged running as a way of life, looking to improve their sports performance so they could be promotional flags of a sport who should have their foundation on their champions. Should recreational runners know the best elite runners as they know most of the best football players? What sports culture do we have in running? Support by giving value to elite runners is to recognize the route they choose so well to define their lives and reinforce the importance of running in a broader social context, in which sooner or later, everyone may enjoy.
At this level I appreciate many of the recreational runners I know who identify, support and praise the results of young runners and place them as sports references. Thus, contributing to that helps elite runners to be seen by society, race organizers and Portuguese sport system as examples who should be supported by those who are able to do so. Cause the running world needs it and because the examples I have lived of support between these two sides of the running brings me great hope about the future I want to see in it.