Breaking Tradition


By Sheryl Rosen,


The difference between traditions and traditionalists is that traditions change.

Traditions in our running community include annual races, weekly get-togethers for a jaunt on the Phipps or St. Marks trails, and even the Gulf Winds logo on our race T-shirts.

Think of the tradition behind the upcoming Palace Saloon 5K, the Run to Posey’s, your Sunday long run group, or your Tuesday track intervals routine. Participating in these events week after week and year after year gives us a concrete sense of the passage of time. Traditions give us the precious perspective only a lucky few of us possess on normal days. Whether we’re comparing our fitness goals or life goals, our traditions remind us of where we were last year, where we are this year in comparison, and where we want to be next year.

The traditionalists among us hold tightly to our running events and icons, taking great comfort in their history, symbolism, and familiarity. But their great respect for tradition can cause friction when, for example, a race course must change or a longtime event dies out. It’s this friction that can occur so strongly between traditionalists and the editors of the traditions they cherish.

Traditions are undeniably meaningful, and while we all tend to crave some measure of tradition, we must continually decide where to draw the line. Sometimes we can stand our ground and keep a tradition exactly the same, but sometimes we must let staunchness and rigidity give way to the change that the passage of time or perhaps simple necessity inevitably brings. The only question is when.

Then, of course, there are the runners who manage to one-up that dilemma and create their own traditions. They have an uncanny ability to shirk tradition and make no apologies. The most prominent local example is Tim Simpkins. He was so lovingly unconventional that although I never met him, I’ve heard many club members speak fondly of him and his unusual habit of running around town in Superman garb. His ability to defy convention teaches us how important it is to maintain freedom from tradition as well as our love for it.

We have a gut-level need to hold on to tradition, but when we need a safer race course or a new way to fill our Pine Run void, we must let go of our need to preserve tradition. We also should give ourselves permission to make revisions because changing a tradition actually may be the best way to preserve its finest qualities.

Our traditions help define us, and that’s the beauty of having them. I haven’t been around long enough to witness many long-standing traditions change, but two years in Gulf Winds is long enough to know this: The only lasting tradition is breaking tradition.