Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Getting "Real"

I spent some time today considering what is, in the world of runners, an age-old question:  Who or What is a "Real Runner"?

Where do you draw that line?  Is it based on pace - do you have to run a 7-minute pace to be considered Real?  What about 10-minute miles - is that acceptable?  What if you're only holding a 12-minute pace?  What if you walk and run and average 13:45 - what then?  Sorry, you can't be in The Real Runners Club.

Maybe we should decide based on distance.  Endurance is certainly key to being a Real Runner.  Can you run  one mile without a walk-break?  Two?  Five?  That's a lot easier to do if you run an 8-minute mile versus a 12-minute, so distance might not be the best determining factor.  Duration, then.  How much time does one have to spend running, without walking, before she can be considered Real?  Twenty minutes?  45?  What if you walk some, but only for strict, short duration?  Would walking less than 60 seconds at a time qualify, or should you keep it to 30 seconds or less?  If I'm going to do this thing, I want to Really do it.  The last thing I want is to be a poseur!

Perhaps it's better to compare ourselves to others.  Do I have to place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in my age group in a race, or must it be an outright win?  In EVERY race, or just once?  One race a year?  What if you run regularly but don't ever race?  Do you just have to speed up & pass everyone you see out on the trail each week?  (Then I'd be winning, right?)  If I hate the treadmill and therefore drop out of my training for three or four months a year when it's cold out, do I lose my standing and have to start over each March after the ice thaws?  People run faster on roads than on trails, how shall we judge them?

If I sound sarcastic and dismissive, it's because I am.  There are runners out there in the Running Community (mainly the blogosphere from what I can tell) who are presumptuous and pretentious enough to say things like "You're not a Real Runner unless you're averaging better than an X-minute pace."  More importantly, I hear people saying, "yes, I run... well, I'm not a Real Runner - [now fill in the blank with your hedge of choice:]  I do a lot of walking/ I'm slow, really I don't like to use the word 'run' I'm really more of a jogger/ I always come in last - but I really enjoy it."  I hear it from people, especially at my running group (particularly in March when the "newbie" group starts up!), and especially from women.  I think women are more susceptible to this... perhaps we are more likely to denigrate ourselves, place others above ourselves on some imaginary pyramid of validity.

I object to the whole line of thought because I dispute the premise.  The premise that there is some definitive line we must cross in order to be Real.  I am offended by my own hesitancy to accept that over the past few years there has developed a new aspect to my personality, my definition of Who I Am or What I'm About:  I am a Runner.  It was new and different and rather difficult to get my head around at first but there it is.  And I made it ever more difficult by having to work around this invisible line of being Real.

I thought that a Real Runner was long and lean and fast and as a woman, of course they weigh about 60 pounds less than I do.  The picture in my mind looked a lot like this:

But Real Runners come in all shapes and sizes.  The folks in my running group are a great example - there are some who are built JUST LIKE the woman in the photo above, but others look a LOT more like I did in this photo.  (In the running for Worst Photo Ever Taken of Me.)

Yup, this is me in 2010.
The group is full of all sorts of body types:  big guys, women with big ole' butts, heavy people working hard to get healthier.  And many of them have run multiple marathons.  Some were athletes in high school and college, exercised their whole lives, always loved running and doing exercise of all kinds.  Others (more like myself) taught themselves to enjoy exercise and being out of doors later in life, or just got started last year with their first Couch to 5K program.  And in my book, they are as Real as it gets.

I think about this a LOT.  I think about it frequently while I'm running, while I'm racing.  When I see someone running who is overweight, over thirty, or who is slower (I place myself solidly in all three of those categories), I wonder - does s(he) question whether s(he) is a Real Runner?  Do they know that I know how hard it is to do what they are doing, and how much respect other runners have for them?  If they are part of the running community here, then they know.  The community here is incredibly supportive and communicative.  If they're not part of that group, I hope they have a family who is giving and supportive and respects the time and effort they're putting in.  I hope their family makes them feel like a Real Runner.

When did i become a Real Runner in my own mind?  I'm not entirely sure, but here's one thing I repeat like a mantra when I'm out on the road (something I saw on a Facebook post and have no idea where it came from, so I apologize:  I can't provide a source)

You are what you repeatedly DO.

I don't know when it happened, but the moment I became a Real Runner is the moment when it stopped being something I was TRYING to do and became simply "something I DO."

But this Christmas .. well, now it's official.  I didn't realize it wasn't quite official until this morning when I opened my presents, and each branch of the family gave me something to support my habit!  A training calendar, a hydration belt, a hook to connect the dog leash to my belt so I can keep my hands free, a reflective vest for night runs.  My family is so incredible and supportive, and it turns out, they think I'm a Real Runner too.

Thank you, everyone, for your support.  And Merry Christmas!

By the way, there are a lot of great posts on this subject.  I've read many over the past few years, which is partly how I've clarified my own views on the topic.  Here are a few I've read recently:
And this one has some great tips, ostensibly for "beginners" but great to remember even if you're already a Real Runner...http://www.makeit-loveit.com/2012/01/a-runner-im-not-a-real-one-but-i-pretend.html

And a quote on the topic:
 I often hear people say,’I’m not a real runner.’ we are all runners, some just run faster than others, that’s all. I have never met a fake runner.
— Bart Yasso (@bartyasso), joined Runner’s World in 1987 to develop the groundbreaking Runner’s World Race Sponsorship Program, creating a vehicle for Runner’s World to work with over 7,000 races representing 4 million runners per year. Inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions. (via http://lifeofacollegeathlete.tumblr.com)

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