Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What makes a "Runner"?

The late George Sheehan once wrote, "The difference between a jogger and a runner is a race number", this supposedly delineating the difference between those who enjoy running as an activity versus sport. I disagree with this. Does that mean if you run 40 miles a week but never enrolled in an official race, you are still not really a "runner"?

There has been equal amounts of praise and criticism about the recent surge of running's popularity. Some attest that this is proof that America is finally getting healthy and highlights all of the wonderful 5K's, Turkey Trots, and running groups that have recently emerged. On the other hand, there are those involved in the elite racing division that believe this surge of amateur involvement is actually hurting America's running competitions by lowering the mean racing times and overcrowding big city races with first time competitors.

For whatever reason, I still find it hard to refer to myself as a "runner." Some of it is the leftover mentality from less than a year ago when I found it hard to get out and jog 2 miles. That is more of a personal image I haven't gotten rid of yet. But there is also that larger stigma that unless you are really great and competitive in a sport you are not truly a part of it. This seems to be the same when you refer to the cycling world or many other endurance sports. If you go for a 25 mile bike ride every weekend, but never compete, are you a biker?

For many of these sports, there seems to be a reservation of sorts by the elite competitors. There's a kind of intimidation factor that comes across as "if you're not serious/professional about running/biking/etc, then get out of our way and don't waist our time!" I do understand that it must be frustrating when beginners who don't understand protocol get in your way, potentially could cause injury/accidents, or don't take it as seriously (I mean I get mad when people don't understand the stand to the right, walk up the left concept on the Metro!). At the same time, it's a shame that so many people do not attempt these great endurance sports mainly due to lack of encouragement or access to knowledge. Though I am an admitted book worm, there is only so much you can gain from pages, rather than being immersed in the actual culture. If it wasn't for the Y-Tri program holding my hand, matching me up with veterans, and having patience for my silly questions/mistakes I would NEVER have attempted a quarter of the things I have this year. I mean I grew up riding a beach cruiser (thank you Florida). I had no concept of gears let alone clip-less shoes/pedals, the appropriate bike fit... hell, the appropriate bike!

This is the number one reason I began this blog. In the weeks before my official triathlon training began, this shy, anxious, "I really don't want to make a fool of myself" girl spent hours online and in bookstores trying to find answers to basic questions like: what do I wear for winter running?, do you wear sneakers to spin class?, can anyone translate these swimming workouts to English? What I found was only training advise for the already experienced athlete, all in terminology that might as well have been Russian. There was no true beginner basic information. That was the niche I was hoping to fill here for the next couch potato who wanted to dip there toe in the world of endurance. I wanted to ease the fear of "what the hell are they talking about", and encourage the "oh I get it now!"

So call yourself whatever you'd like. The one thing you can be sure of is that there will always be someone faster, always be someone slower, and you will always have more to learn!


  1. It took me quite awhile to actually feel like I could call myself a "runner" as well. I left that tag to the front-of-the-packers who dusted the competition. Now that I am tackling Triathlons, I find myself with the same dilemma. Even though I am a triathlete (I've done a few sprints), I have a hard time calling myself that. I reserve that right to those who gruel through 70.3 or more. Great post!