June 15, 2008

At what point do you define yourself as a runner?

I find myself asking this question all the time. When people ask me my hobbies, I don’t typically answer with running. When people ask if I’m a runner, I hedge and say “yeah, I run sometimes.” But for some reason, I don’t feel like I can actually call myself a runner.

Last summer, when I started running in earnest, I thought of myself as just someone who ran sometimes. I wasn’t a runner – runners did half-marathons. In January, when I did my first half-marathon, I still didn’t think of myself as a runner – it would take a marathon to qualify me for that.

Then I did my first marathon, and to be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. I expected the marathon to change me; to make me into a “real runner.” I was disappointed that while it felt good to finish the marathon, there wasn’t any “aha” moment. I got my runner’s high at the start of the marathon, when I thought to myself “I can’t believe I’m finally doing this.” But when I did it? I didn’t feel very much, and I still didn’t feel like a “real runner.”

Yesterday, I did a 27.5 mile training run (finally clocked it – yay!). I ran the second half of the Boston Marathon course, because I wanted to do some hill training and I knew there were supposed to be some tough hills in there. I didn’t bother to really check out the course in advance, and I didn’t know where the hills would hit, but I figured since I was running it backwards, I’d see them on a downhill before I actually had to do them uphill. As I traversed the course, I found that there were several hills that seemed pretty long and steep. There were three that I thought could be the infamous Heartbreak Hill, but they all seemed pretty bad, so I didn’t know which one it was. I hit my turnaround point and headed back, bracing myself for the hills. I ran the exact same course, but the hills were totally not bad at all. I noticed some uphills, but none of them really seemed tough. As for the run itself, I expected to finish it out in pain and doing the survivor shuffle that I had done in Burlington. However, I actually sprinted the last bit, and I felt fantastic! A little sore yesterday, and still a little sore today – but my gait isn’t even noticeably impaired. Compare that to Vermont, where I was basically crippled for two days – I think I’m making progress! (Though I ran faster at Vermont, so maybe it was just that I ran slow enough to be okay).

However, back to the original theme of the post – am I now a “real runner”? I mean geez, I ran more than a marathon distance as a training run. (Training for what, I don’t know – maybe an ultra is in my future?) I’m sure most of you would agree that I’m a “real runner” now, but I’m curious – when did you start defining yourself as such? Or do you feel the same way I do? I’m inexplicably “afraid” to call myself a runner, but let’s face it, 99% of the population would probably consider me such.

Side note speaking of 99%: yesterday whenever anyone passed me (including this really old man of about 70 and his really old and graying dog), I got to think to myself, “whatever… there is a 99% chance they’re not going as far as I am.” (If you are an ultrarunner in Boston and were out there yesterday, please don’t tell me).


35 thoughts on “At what point do you define yourself as a runner?”

  1. This is really eerie to me – this morning someone asked “how long have you been running?” and it sparked a pretty similar internal monologue that I had planned to write about today :-).

    What a great training run Laura! You seem to really have fun with it :-). You should read Dean Karnazes’ book – Ultramarathon Man. I just read it and now I’m convinced I have to do an ultra now just by reading that book. I mostly want an excuse to order a pizza whilst in the midst of a 40 mile training run… but that’s beside the point!

  2. Chia, I read that book last summer, and found it SO inspiring! Dean Karnazes is just incredible. At the time, my longest run was about 5 miles, and I couldn’t even comprehend the idea of running 26.2. It strikes me as SO crazy that now I do a training run longer than that and feel great. Maybe I’m destined to go for an ultra too. I had forgotten about the pizza thing until you brought it up though – maybe I should reread. And find an ice cream company that will deliver to me on the run 🙂

    Do you have an ultra picked? Or is it just something you’ve decided you want to do someday?

  3. Of course you’re a runner! Clearly, you’ve been a runner for a while. What does a runner look like in your head, that you feel like you don’t match the image?

    As for me, I took on the title just about as soon as I started running. Sure, I was running thirteen minute miles, but that didn’t stop me! I also find that defining myself as a runner can be pretty motivating.

    That’s quite a training run you did. I can’t quite imagine going out and casually running that far.

  4. *tee hee* I completely misstated myself on my site – I didn’t come in 22nd place… I meant to say I only beat 22 people – I was so tired last night I’m suprised I could form a full sentence ;-).

    I am mostly worried about doing my first marathon for now – I haven’t quite made the decision of when I’ll do that just yet.

    I’ll give it a couple of years before going for the ultra – sounds like a good 30th birthday present to myself.

    Did you see “Running on the Sun?” I just got that via Netflix and there is the coolest chick ever with a support crew that had klondike bars for her at mile 30. I thought of ya for a second there!

  5. This must be a common theme among us, because I had these same thought yesterday. I have not run a marathon yet nor a half marathon. I consistently run 4 times a week. My miles are up and training for my first half is going well. But am I a “real” runner? At what point do I become a real runner? I think speed has something to do with it. I am pretty slow–10 minute mile or so. I feel like I can’t call myself a real runner until my pace goes down. Of course, that may never happen so I might need a different endpoint.

    You, Laura, are a real runner. 27.5 miles at one time. You are part of the club.

    I follow an ultramarathoner’s blog (http://lifeisanultramarathon.blogspot.com/). He is in training for his SECOND 100 mile ultramarathon. Nuts if you ask me…

  6. RunAtTheMouth: it’s so weird. I used to have these milestones: if I just do a half-marathon… if I just get my pace down… if I just do a full marathon. I’m kind of out of milestones at this point, as I’ve achieved those goals. But for some reason, I still feel like I’m not ready to be a runner! I don’t get my thought process at all, and I can’t really explain it. I suppose I AM a runner; I just don’t feel like one.

    Chia: you are totally going to rock your first marathon! I say just sign up and go for it 🙂 As for Running on the Sun, I haven’t seen it, but now I really want to. Any one who runs and loves ice cream is okay with me!

    Chris: thanks for the link – I’ve added that one to my blogroll. I can’t imagine doing 100 miles. I don’t know much about training for an ultra, but I assume that you’d want to at train with at least close to the distance you’re planning to race? Even assuming I could keep the same pace I currently do a marathon in, and even assuming I “only” did 90 miles in training for a 100 mile race… that would take me like 16 hours. So basically one day each weekend I would just wake up, run, and go to bed. How is that possible?! So impressed.

  7. You are a runner! Running a marathon on a whim and thinking to yourself – yeah I’ll do this again. Definitely a runner. And a hill run of 27.5 miles, non-runners don’t do that 😉

    We have all had this convo w/ ourself. I think others consider me a runner and call me a runner but I don’t still!

  8. Well, there’s always the famous George Sheehan quote: “The only difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank.” By that definition (by anyone’s definition, really), you’re a runner.

    If you’re interested in ultras, check out Ultrarunning magazine.

    It primarily consists of race reports of ultras all over the country (plus some international coverage).

    A year’s subscription (plus watching movies like “Running on the Sun”) had the effect of making me never want to run an ultra. Racing marathons is hard enough, thank you very much. But ultras might just be your cup of tea.

  9. Well, YOU officially made me a runner. So you must be one!

    You do more on what should be a screaming hangover than I can ever imagine doing after chamomile tea and an early bedtime.

  10. Funny, I have felt like a real (though reluctant) runner since I joined my first “learn to run” class. Not a fast runner, mind you, but a runner nonetheless.

    I am very inclusive in my definition of runners. I feel great respect for those folks gutting it out at the back of the pack and the ones blowing our minds with their awesomeness at the front. But getting out there … trying as hard as you can to put one foot in front of the other for your planned distance … working to improve. I think that’s a common experience for all runners (not to take anything away from the incredible discipline of the elite athlete.) That what makes you a real runner. And you DEFINITELY are one. Great topic … thanks!

  11. I have those same thoughts all the time, too. Maybe it’s because we’ve both been running regularly for about a year? Who knows.

    In regards to ultramarathoning a guy in one of my classes in uni regularly ran them and one day I asked what his training schedule was like. He said he ran for a minimum of five hours a DAY, every day. I don’t know how he did it with a full time job, classes part time, and a wife.

  12. Wow, 27.5 miles in one go? On a training run? That’s hardcore!

    I think of anyone who has the courage to put running shoes on and go for a run, and do it on a semi-regular basis is a runner. Anyone who is willing to get up at the crack of dawn is a runner.

    I didnt consider myself a real runner until I realized that I was fully committed to training for my first half though.

  13. You sound like a runner to me. I don’t know many non-runners that could go out and run over 27 miles on a whim.

    Not 100% appropriate since you aren’t trying to differentiate between running and jogging, but it still stands to show why you are a runner: George Sheehan offered this definition: “The difference between a runner and a jogger is an entry blank.” You could also look at the official rules of baseball and see that you could define yourself as a runner because you advance from one base (the starting line) to another (the finish line).

    As for Heartbreak Hill, don’t be too disappointed. Heartbreak hill isn’t named for its difficulty, it’s named because of something Johnny Kelley said when talking about Tarzan Brown overtaking him on the hill. It’s only an 80 foot climb, and the main difficulty lies not in the hill but in the fact that you run downhill for so long and then hit the Newton Hills with legs that are just shot, only to follow it up with yet more downhill running. You made it easier on yourself by doing an out and back and skipping the first 10-15 miles of the course from Hopkinton.

  14. i was just thinking the same thing this weekend… and i think i might fall under the definition now. first when i was getting fitted for new shoes and i mentioned my 18 miler and got a crazy look from the lady sitting next to me, then when i lost 2 toenails from running. i think those might qualify me?

    and you are DEFINITELY a runner! who runs 27.5 miles just because?!?

  15. You’re joking, right? Running 27.5 miles definitley qualifies you as a “runner.” 🙂

    Seriously, I think we’ve all had a similar thought run through our heads. I try not to get too wrapped up in it though. It starts to stress me out and make running much less fun.

  16. My question is, why are you afraid to go ahead and label yourself as a runner? Is it like when I was afraid to go out and say that my kid was potty-trained? Like, that by saying so, I’d curse myself into him regressing and taking a whiz on the sofa?

  17. I agree with everyone else, you’re definitely a runner! I think it’s common to be scared of labeling yourself, since you don’t feel much different, it’s hard to project what you see as an image of “a runner” (or anything) onto yourself.
    I’m starting to think of myself as a runner because I have friends coming to me for running advice. But, I go into a running store or a race and I am self-conscious defining myself that way!
    Great job on the 27.5 mile run! That’s ridiculous!

  18. Betsy, I think you hit the nail on the head. I’ve been putting off responding to the comments because everyone keeps saying “of course you’re a runner!” And I guess I KNOW I’m a runner… but somehow I’m afraid to admit it. Not sure why, but I am. What’s odd is, I consider other people to be runners for far less strict criteria. I don’t know what it’s going to take for me to proudly say I’m a runner, but I still just inexplicably feel like I’m not. So weird.

  19. Laura,
    I found your blog thru comments you left with the Laminator. You are a very interesting read. I have my own blog too, and if it’s okay with you, I’d like to add you to my blogroll to make sure I don’t miss any posts.

    And by the way, regarding your post, the question is moot. Based on everything I’ve seen on this website, the only question you should be asking yourself is whether or not your sneaks are good for 300 or 500 miles.

    Take care and perhaps see you round the Big Apple (either in Queens or when I do my NYRR races in friendly Central Park!)

  20. I’m totally confused! I thought I was a runner, and then I saw your post, about running 27+ with hills for a training run and now I’m not so sure anymore! I mean if you don’t think you’re a runner and you can bust out a training run of 27+ (with hills) on a whim, and I’m supposed to be training for a marathon in a month and a half and haven’t even run a good 20 yet, then what the heck am I…maybe a mini-runner.

    BTW, I was planning to come out on the 5th, but after this, I might be too embarassed to show my face…

  21. Lam – I seem to just have really low running self-esteem. I consider you a hardcore runner, while I consider myself not one at all! Maybe I need to go into therapy… 🙂 In any case, you’re totally going to be kicking my butt in July.

  22. I guess this post brings up the age-old question…why does mileage have to define what makes someone a “runner” or not?

    As far as I’m concerned, you were a runner long before you finished your first marathon…and that goes for others in that same boat too.

    If someone prefers short distances, likes racing 5Ks and 4-milers and has no need to do long-ass runs on the weekends…well I still consider that to be a runner as well.

    Mileage should definitely not be the defining point…

  23. Good point from NYFlyGirl. In a little while, we’ll be watching some amazing sprinters in the track and field events at the Olympics. Those people aren’t running marathons, but they are definitely runners.

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