I have a lot of them, but I don't usually bring them into my blog. I usually use this space to talk about my own personal life experiences, and especially those surrounding running. Today I'm diverting from that (temporarily) in order to deal with something that has been exasperating me. It's an issue that keeps coming up to or around me, and I, if for nothing else than my own sanity, need to deal with it.
I'm guessing that you, especially if you are a runner or you associate with them, have heard someone dismissively say "He/she's not a real runner." Or even a runner him or herself shake his or her head and say "Oh, no, I'm not a real runner." People, this is wrong. Why are we discouraging people from taking part in this beautiful, natural sport? Why must we make new (or even old) runners feel like they don't quite belong? And why do runners allow themselves to believe the absurd notion that you must do more than run to be a runner?
Now some of you will say "So, Wendy, I can run to the mailbox and call myself a runner?" No, not usually. Unless that's all you can physically run. To me, if you consistently go outside (or even, GASP, to a treadmill) and run (even if that running includes walk breaks), you are a runner. And "consistently" is an ill-defined word. For some people it's every day. For even more people it's several times a week. For others, it may be once a week. If you put one foot in front of the other on a regular basis, you're a runner in my book. Here are the following (asinine) characteristics I have heard others say make one a fake runner:
1. Too slow.
I actually hear runners say this more about themselves than I hear runners say it about other runners. So many times I've talked to runners after races and they will saying something like "But I'm not a real runner, I'm just really slow." Two words: doesn't matter. 12 minute pace, 10 minute pace, 5 minute pace--we all get there eventually. YOU'RE STILL RUNNING! Don't ever think (or let someone tell you) that just because you're "slow" you're not a real runner. In most running groups, there are people of all paces, from super fast to super slow. The trick is to find others who run your pace. But a slow runner is still a runner. Period.
2. Doesn't race.
Now this one bothers me the most. I put it second only because it's not as common as number one. I hate nothing more than when I say, "So, does so and so run?" "Well, he runs, but he doesn't race. So he's not like a real runner." Does that statement not just sound completely irrational? He runs but he's not a runner. I think you mean he runs but he' not a racer, which I didn't ask anyway! There are a LOT of people who run for fun. There are even more who run for fitness and health. And they never pin on a race number. And what do we racers often do? We judge them. Snide comments abound. "Why would you run a long run every week if you're not even going to race?" "Can you believe she runs all those miles and never even races?"
1/3 of the US population is obese, costing our nation a billion dollars a year. Honestly, folks, let them run. Whatever their reason--to stay thin and pretty, to stay healthy and avoid a heart attack, to become endorphinized so they stay away from drugs--let them run.
I will never understand why some runners are so downright incensed by the fact that someone could run just for the fun of it. That they can put their shoes on every morning and head out for a run simply because they want to. How dare they be devoted to something they love to do simply because they love to do it! Oh, and watch out if you're a runner who runs races for fun. Some ultra-competitive runners (and I am an ultra-competitive person, by the way) will just be beside themselves to hear this. "You're running for FUN? YOU'RE NOT RACING?" They especially hate this if your "fun" pace is close to or faster than their "all out race" pace.
Myself, I love to race. But the underlying reason for all of my training is....I love to run. If I could never race again, I'd run just as much or more than I do now. I do not hold it against another runner who does not enjoy the pain of racing. Let's be honest--it hurts. Some people don't like or handle pain well. Why does it irritate so many runners that they choose to do what they enjoy? I'll never know. But whatever your reason for running--to fit into those jeans, to get off those blood pressure pills, or to simply pass time--trust that you are a real runner.
3. Doesn't follow a training plan.
I would actually never be able to do this--not follow a training plan. But I admire those runners (Wes, Scott) who pull it off. Do you know when they run? Whenever the hell they feel like it. When it becomes no fun, they stop. Imagine that. I have heard on more than one occasion that runners like this are not quite real runners, despite the fact that they often run way more than 100 miles per week. Why is having a structured training plan a prerequisite for being considered a runner? They listen to their bodies and run by feel. They have no Earthly idea what their "tempo pace" is. They don't pay attention to splits or even total distance or time. They run sans watch. But they're running. A lot. They are runners. The ultimate runners, in my book.
4. Doesn't look like a runner.
There are skinny runners, stout runners, short runners, tall runners, and downright fat runners. They are all runners. A lot of people are under the assumption that you need to have long, skinny legs to be a good runner. That being lithe is mandatory. Might it help? Sure, it might make it easier, but it's certainly not required. Again, I remind you of the obesity epidemic in this country. If people think they are too fat to run, they will never run. And thus they will remain fat. Overweight people CAN and SHOULD run.
Even after you lose weight running (and you will, it's the best calorie burner ever), you may not look like what you imagine a runner to be. You may think (or be told...or it may be hinted at) that, though you can run, you don't have a runner's build and you can never be fast. I, in fact, was told this once when I went out for the high school cross county team. It was a walk-on team, but when I showed up for the meeting the coach took one look at me and said "Oh, you are a sprinter, not a distance runner. Come back for track season." Being only 16, I listened to her. And I didn't run.
Well, let me just tell you, I'm a more-than-decent distance runner. Do I have long stick legs? No. I have big (like, huge) calves and strong quads. I'm short. But I have run some pretty fast times. Times that would have definitely made me the fastest on the team in high school. I have so much regret about not running in high school. All because someone told me I didn't look like a runner. Even if I had never become "fast," I still could have run. No matter what kind of body you're in, you can run and be a runner.
People also might say you're not a runner because you don't dress like one. There is this ever-growing (mis)belief that, in order to be a real runner, you must look like shit every time you head out the door for a run. Your hair should be matted. You should stink. Your socks better not match. You had better not even think of trying to "fix" your hair. But maybe you're high maintenance or a girly girl (or guy). Maybe you want everything to match. Maybe you even wear make up when you run. Maybe you need to look a certain way to feel comfortable and confident while you run. Maybe that's part of the fun for you. Why are some runners so bothered by what other runners wear, especially when they choose to wear something that is nice, pretty, or matching? It downright enrages some runners. I have heard runners let out a huge, exasperated sigh when a female runner comes up wearing a running skirt. She is immediately written off as 1) slow, 2) a fake runner and, 3) trying to get the attention of men. Has anyone watched Shalane Flanagan or Kara Goucher race? How about Jenn Shelton? Shalane and Kara always look great, and the former has been quoted as saying how she takes time to make sure that she looks good in front of the cameras. Don't know if you've noticed, but these two women are FAST. Olympic fast. Yet they don't look homeless when they run. Jenn Shelton, probably THE most bad-ass female runner out there right now, wears running skirts all the time. She has a reputation for being a violent drunk and having a foul mouth. She's about as non-girly as they come. And she happens to hold the world record for women's 100 mile trail running. But she couldn't possibly be a real runner, right? Know one reason she wears a lot of running skirts? POCKETS. Running skirts are full of pockets (usually on the compression shorts). You can stuff a ton of gels, even a phone in them. They are totally functional.
I don't even pay attention to what other runners are wearing. Sometimes something cute (yes, I like cute running clothes) catches my eye, but others' running attire is about the last thing on my mind. But a lot of other runners do...because they'll say to me "Did you see how she was wearing all pink?" No, I didn't. And I Do. Not. CARE.
In this month's Runner's World, there is a quote that reads "I've never met a fake runner." Nor have I. So keep running.