Monday, September 3, 2012

'I Am Not a Runner'

"To know you are one with what you are doing, to know that you are a complete athlete, begins with believing you are a runner." ~ George Sheehan

I've heard this from so many runners...'I'M NOT A RUNNER' or 'I'M NOT REALLY A RUNNER'.

I spent this past Saturday in Estes Park, CO at Terry Chiplin's beautiful running camp Active at Altitude. attending an "Active Mind" workshop which Terry will be bringing to marathons across the country with his Active Mind Race Camps. At the workshop we explored some ways to redirect and refocus the helpful and not so helpful self concepts that we carry with us throughout our days and nights.

Several of the participants expressed a nagging feeling that they aren't 'real runners' or runners at all. This seems to be a constant refrain - Oh I'm not a 'runner' I just run...or some such nonsense. The usual grounds for such claims are: They feel that they're not running enough, or don't race, or have never run a marathon, or don't run fast enough, or haven't been running long enough, or are too old, or have the wrong body type, and on and on and on...To all of these I say piffle.

Being a runner has to do with attitude, period. I've written about this before in Running or Jogging.There I argue that being a runner has nothing to do with any of the above. Rather I concluded then that: 
"There's a level of commitment and a desire to make running happen even when it's difficult. Runners want to run. Runners enjoy running. Oh, we all have those days when we just don't want to do it - but we do it anyway - and once we do, we usually (but not always) love it. Runners run as an end in itself, not as a means to an end only. Sure, some runners run to lose weight, or for their health - but true runners keep running after they've lost the weight (or haven't) and feel healthy and strong. Runners sometimes run when they're sick or injured, even if they shouldn't. Runners run in the rain and the snow and the cold, and realize that it's actually always great weather for a run. Or, they might suck it up, and run on the treadmill, if there's no other way to get their fix."
However, going to the workshop this weekend made me realize that some recent experiences have upset my world just a tad. They've made me more nervous and uptight about my training. They've left me feeling that I need to compare myself to others. They've undermined what I know I really believe and my pure enjoyment of running. And when I think about it all, and the resulting feelings and reactions I've allowed in myself, I recognize that, in fact, they've pissed me off and made me question my own understanding of me as a runner.

Here's what happened...


Earlier this summer I spent some time in the company of many, many elite professional runners, some Olympic marathoners and very serious amateurs. At first I felt that somehow there was some sort of mistake - 'Um, I don't think I should be here. Why was I invited?', I thought silently to myself. My running resume just didn't measure up. I immediately felt like an impostor - a fake - What if everyone finds out? I may be a "Marathon Maniac" - I may be a 'runner' of 40 years (or that's what I've always thought), but I'm just not very fast - at least by the standards of some - and the disparaging comments (which I do believe are not meant that way) creep into the discussions without some (fast runners) even noticing.

Well, I did my best to fit in and I can hold my own pretty well concerning my knowledge of training and physiology, and my experience with my own running and working with other runners allows me to put on a pretty good act, even if I can no longer run the paces I once considered respectable. I learned so much new and I also learned that I have a pretty good handle on a lot of running stuff. But then there were the little comments thrown in, almost in passing, and these words started borrowing their way relentlessly into my soul like termites eating away at my confidence.

It was simple, and common, and I've heard these things a million times and this time it got to me: Claims that those running over 4:00 marathons probably shouldn't be running marathons - Claims that someone running an 8:30 per/mile pace for a marathon is really a 'glorified jogger'. I wanted to run away and hide...or better, jog away and hide.

God, I hope no one knows how slow I am, I thought to myself.

I wish I could say that I'm over that, but the truth is, I'm battling it right now. I believe that I'm a runner. But the naysayers got to me and I hate it.

Then today I read something that really made me angry...

At this point we've all heard about Paul Ryans bogus marathon PR claims - and I'm not going to go on about that other than to say that lying matters to me - Instead I'm going to focus on some of the comments with respect to his claims.

In the BBC piece "Paul Ryan Marathon Claim: Would You Fib About Your PB?" by  David Castle, editor of Running Fitness magazine suggests:
"When we talk about runners becoming proper runners, [it might be] under 3:30 [for a marathon]...Who wants to say they ran four hours? It's an OK time but not a runner's time."
Seriously? I'm sorry but this guy needs to get a life and a clue! I've been running for 40 years. I run every stinking day (minus one rest day a week - though I did have a 3 year running streak back in the 80s - and no, that probably can not be verified unless you want to look at my running log which could have all been fabricated). I run in all weather. I run when I'm sick. I ran through my whole bloody pregnancy (Ya done that Mr. Castle?). And, I was back out every day, with baby in tow, 5 weeks after giving birth. So, this tool is going to tell me I'm not a runner!!!! Yeah, this pushes my buttons. Yeah, I'm feeling a little defensive.

But worse, for many runners, it eats at them, it makes them feel silly and fake - How silly is it to work so hard for such slow times? How silly to spend so much time doing something one obviously sucks at? How can someone justify all this time and effort? These disparaging comments, arbitrary measurements and restrictive definitions of what it is to be a runner are pointless and irksome.

Well, it's really quite simple: I love to run. Period. That makes me a runner. Period. I am a runner.


  1. Anybody watching me run knows I'm not a fast runner. Many "runners" especially in that crowd you were in would say that I'm not a runner by any stretch of the imagination. Well, they can go do something anatomically improbable to themselves.

    Running is a mindset. It's something you do because you want to. Faster than a walk qualifies as running in my books. Many people can run faster than I could ever dream of, and so what? It makes them a faster runner, not a better person. There might be some other aspect of athletic performance that I might be better at (not terribly likely, I admit) and again, so what? That doesn't make me better.

    I think that people who look down on other people that happen to be slower are just making it obvious they are jerks. As long as people are out there "running" they are doing great things for their own health and well being, and that should be saluted. Not judged by how fast they go.

  2. Funny how we identify ourselves. In my eyes - you are most definitely a runner.

    I'm coming up on my 1 year anniversary with running (Sept 15th) and pretty much everyone I know considers me a mtn biker not a runner. The race promoter at the Breck Crest 10k announced me as "a long time mtn biker that's giving running a try". So, I guess I'm not a runner...but that's ok. :)

  3. Geez, have those snotty folks actually talked to a complete NON-runner recently? I mean, someone who is puzzled why you'd ever run at all, ever, anywhere, for fun? Or someone who perhaps actively dislikes running?

    What makes you a runner IMHO is enjoying running-- period. That's the real difference between a runner and a non-runner. There's really nothing else that's worth quantifying, I think.
    Who cares how fast you go-- there is always someone faster anyway. If not now, then in the future there will be!
    Let the professionals think strictly about speed and worry about that! Let us runners... RUN!

  4. Put yourself in my shoes. I'm overweight, I'm just starting out and run 14+ minute miles. I struggle with the definition of being a runner as well but in the end, what did I name my blog? The Fat Runner. Not Jogger or Walker. Even though I cannot run "proper times" and may never do, I put in the work to try and improve. If that makes me a runner, then by golly, you are not just a runner. You are a great runner.

    1. Frank - My whole point here is that YOU ARE A RUNNER! It's The attitude, baby ;)

    2. nice post.

      I may be slow-
      But the effort is there.
      The will
      The desire
      The time

      and THAT is what makes me smile.
      In the time it takes me to do my long run
      Those fast guys could'a would'a and should'a done an ultra

      just sayin!

  5. Excellent post. This is a HUGE annoyance to me. I am a runner but I am definitely back of the pack. I use the Galloway run/walk method and have been passed by faster runners on looped courses that like to make comments about how "I thought this was a run, not a walk" or "I couldn't stand to walk in the middle of a run." I suppose this makes them feel superior and it probably shouldn't make me feel bad but it does every time. When will the running community become open minded and just be glad to see the community grow.

    1. Meagan - Wow. I'm sorry. People are really nasty sometimes. The running community is usually so inclusive - at least that's been my experience. You know, there's always someone faster than you (unless you are the fastest in the world) so I would watch what I say. And running fast does not make you a good person.

  6. Great post Caolan. I think part of it for you is living in Boulder which tends to attract some pretty hard-core running snobs... even at my fastest in my twenties (sub-38 minute 10ks) when we spent summers there I was not in their league and it was made manifestly clear to me. I also ran through pregnancy, pushed a baby jogger, then a double, but now I'm only able to log 8-9 minute miles. On the other hand, I'm uninjured, enjoying the outdoors, and healthy and fit. I consciously struggle to stop comparing myself to my former times and to accept small improvements and set realizable goals. I never time my runs anymore, in fact I don't even own a running watch. One thing I'm considering for next summer is setting some ultrarunning goals. It's a much more laid-back, welcoming community whose goals for the vast majority are exploring cool trails and finishing a long, tough course, not punching a watch as you cross the finish line or timing every workout. We'll see.

  7. Except for the parts about 1)being invited to hang out with elite runners, and 2)running while pregnant - I could have written this!! Like another commenter, I'm a run-walk-runner, and it makes me so defensive when someone says, "I wouldn't consider myself a runner until I could run the whole 5k." Yes, someone actually said that to me. But I've decided some people's minds will never be changed, and perhaps *too* much of their self-worth in wrapped up in being a Real Runner. I won't change their minds, so I'll just run for me. It makes me feel good. It makes me happy. It gives me wiggle room for more beer. I am a runner.

  8. Yes, comments like that are SO disheartening when we work so hard! I know exactly how you feel and struggle with the same things myself. The main thing is to shove the nasty remarks aside and keep doing what we do--alone, with others, however suits us, at whatever pace is best for us and our bodies and our goals. No one's paying us to do it, no one's watching us--we do it because we love it.

  9. Thanks for all the comments - and please keep in mind that this is mostly written for all those runners out there who are nervous about calling themselves "runners". I know I'm a runner. That said, we can all have our moments of weakness. My next post will be all about fierceness :)

  10. This was a great post, Caolan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am happy to say that I am getting to the point in my life, FINALLY, when I have adopted the "Comparison is the Thief of Joy" quote as my mantra. I'm 40 years old and have run 8 marathons, ranging from 3:43-3:59. I kick ass compared to some of the people I know and drag ass compared to others. There's only one Cyndi Springford (me), so that makes any comparison I, or someone else, make(s) null and void. I didn't always feel that way, but I have become much more comfortable in my own skin, particularly the past year or so. Part of this, for me, was to take myself out of organized race participation for a little while. I realized I put immense amounts of pressure on myself to win my age group at 5K's/5 milers and PR at every half and 26.2 race I was in because I "thought" that is what was expected of me. Then, I decided I was tired about being concerned about others perceptions of me, real or imaginary, and figured it was time to run because I wanted to, not because I felt like I had to. Long story short, I don't care if anyone thinks I'm fast, slow, fat, thin, real or fake. Besides, most people's reactions to you serve as a mirror to their own selves. If they're outwardly critical, it's because they judge and criticize themselves. Just my two cents. Keep on running, keep on writing, keep on philosophizing. :-)

  11. I'm rather disppointed with the comment by David Castle. I've been running for a year it took me 4 months to get to running 5kms non stop, after that it was knocking time of the 5kms that kept me interested. Plus losing 25kgs helped a lot. The outcome of this is I won't buy a subscription to running fitness. Bob


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