One thing we could do with less of in running is the hubris that comes from a statement that tries to make running seem super badass compared to other sports. It plays on most runner's insecurities about, well, being runners and not playing "real" sports, which is ridiculous, but no less ridiculous than trying to build yourself up by making running the be all and end all of sporting endeavors. It's a clever little turn of phrase, but it definitely appeals to a specific type of runner with some specific insecurities.
There is a "the lady doth protest too much" element to this oft repeated catchphrase, which generally sees knowing winks and high fives when uttered at the end of group runs. It's pretty easy to identify why it rings so hollow upon anything resembling closer inspection and that is because, irony alert, ANY other sport besides running is basically a punishment to the average runner.
It's actually almost comical to watch a hardcore runner throw a Frisbee or catch a ball. All that time in the sagittal plane is pretty unforgiving when it comes to moving off a straight line and doing something with the upper body that doesn't follow the familiar 180 cadence of the feet. Suddenly, all the gazelle-like coordination turns into a slapstick comedy as a finely tuned machine has to do something way outside of its comfort zone.
Running is hard, no two ways about it. It's also self-scaling, which means it never gets easier - you just get slower. But it's hardly a punishment for most athletes; it is, however, the coaching equivalent of putting a dunce cap on an athlete and making them sit in the corner. "Do laps and think about what you did wrong" really isn't much different than "you're getting a timeout until you can behave." That's how it gets used. Running is as equal opportunity as an exercise gets--hence the egalitarian nature of it as far as most sports are concerned--and it welcomes everyone into its loving embrace. That's what makes it so perfect as a dumping ground for unruly athletes.
Most coaches see running as a convenient way to deal with a problem child, not so much out of punishment but as a means of getting them out of the way so they can focus on the players who are actually paying attention. The track, itself, is the punishment, not the running; but runners wouldn't know that because, well, they are too busy running instead of playing sports that would teach that lesson. I know, because I have played a lot of sports, coached a few, and volunteered at some others, and it always ends up being the same: running is what happens when the coach runs out of better ideas.
Do you know why it works? Because nobody shows up to football practice expecting to NOT play football, and running laps does exactly that; it takes away from the whole point of coming to the session in the first place. The coach is keeping players from doing what they love, in this case football, by making them do something that is incidental, running, to their chose sport. Running is seen as tedious and a necessary evil, like meeting the parents before taking someone you're attracted to out on a date. It's keeping you from what you wanted in the first place. Time and distance are the punishments; running is just the delivery system for those two elements, like moms and dads are for someone trying to get past chastity on prom night.
That might be a bitter pill for some runners to swallow. Try washing it down with a gel.
Trail running is definitely a step in the right direction, because you never hear trail runners talk shit. They definitely talk about how difficult the trails can be, especially when you get over the 50km mark, but they also go out of their way to welcome everyone to the sport. They wear the belt buckles, for sure; however, those same buckle wearing bad asses also say, "You could totally do it!" Road racing seems to take the other bent, but not always at the elite levels. It always seems to be the mid to back of the pack group "stars" making those comments and puffing themselves up. Keep that in mind the next time you pull on your pithy t-shirt and head out to the mall.
And whatever you do, don't make eye contact with anyone wearing a tarnished belt buckle with any combination of a number and the name of a trail on it; they likely did more mileage in that one race than you Strava in an entire week.
It's not a terrible idea, but it definitely falls into the "No Fear!" category of sporting phrases, which is to say it's a little douchey. I love the sentiment in some ways, but hate the execution when I think about it. I don't want people seeing running as a punishment, nor do I want people thinking that I am somehow better than them because my sport is "harder" than their sport in some esoteric sense. We all know it isn't and saying so only draws attention to that point. Maybe we can swing the pendulum back in favor of running just being a good idea, regardless of what you play. "My sport is how you get better at your sport" or "My sport makes your sport easier" are shirts I would wear and send a way cooler message. We can ditch the whole idea that running is somehow a punishment. No exercise should be looked at that way — it strips away what we want in exercise, which is inclusivity. No exercise is really a punishment when you use that lens.
Well, except for burpees; those really are every sport's punishment.