Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole

The Runner I Am


It’s Thanksgiving night. As I sit in a quiet house, belly still full from pounds of comfort food lovingly prepared by family, head still spinning from those hours of catch-up conversation and several glasses of wine…I’m remembering how just before this day last year, I decided to train for my first half marathon.

I think last winter, the project of training for such a long distance (for me) was the most memorable and fulfilling thing I accomplished all year. And I have decided that I am going to do it again, and I am going to start training tomorrow. Now, when I say I’m training for “the half marathon”, I don’t mean that I have signed up for any races yet (I have one or two in mind, sure, but that’s beside the point). Nor do I mean that I have printed out any sort of training program with the ridiculous intention of starting it four months before spring race season (though I do find training programs mildly helpful as a guide for safely ramping up mileage). What I mean is I want to get myself mentally and physically back there again — to the place of running in the cold winter days and loving it, piling on the mileage and being thrilled about my ability to complete it. But this year, naturally, I want to improve my outcome. I want to have a better race. I want to pay closer attention to my eating habits and be lighter come race season. I want to improve my form. And most importantly, I want to enjoy it even more than last year. This year my resolution will be to quit all my whining and run smiley, even if it kills me. Okay…that was a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Because, someday, I want to be an ultra-marathoner, and hopefully by then I will have become the runner I want to be.

And what is that?…the runner I want to be. What kind of runner am I now? Do I even qualify as a runner? These questions have been spinning through my mind for a very long time now. Then just the other day I read an article* by Kate Kift (the creator of the Run Smiley Collective) called “What is a Runner?” And it had a bit of an effect on me. Not too much of what she said surprised me, she and I are on the same page about most running-related topics – many barefoot and minimalist runners are. But she concentrated quite a lot on how others label us, and to me she seemed to paint the “runner” label as sort of trite and one-dimensional. But that’s probably because she has so many other hats, occupations that fill out her life, that she’d much rather be associated with them instead. And that’s totally cool.

But lots of people think of Kate Kift as a runner, myself included. Doesn’t she think of me as one? What about all these other runner people that we consort with?

Perhaps some of these amazing barefoot runner personalities don’t think of me as much of a runner. I can’t run fast – my fastest mile ever is barely under 9 minutes (and that was just a one mile run, no hills, on a really good day). I’m neither a Vegan nor a Paleo dieter. I’ve never run farther than 13 miles, nor have I run more than 21 miles in a week. I don’t have a slim runner’s body. Up-and-coming minimalist shoe companies aren’t tossing any free trial pairs into my mailbox. I don’t write books about running, and my blog doesn’t usually generate more than 50-60 hits a day. Being the fence-gazing, super-ambitious chick that I am, I think I’ve been stuck on all of this a little too much lately. I’ve got all this useless anxiety about my place in the world of barefoot and minimalist running. I can’t stop wondering: should I even be calling myself a runner, counting myself amongst these crazy badass barefooters, writing articles on the subject as if I’m some kind of authority? What do I even have to contribute, that one of these guys can’t bring a hundred times better?

But many of my friends, coworkers and my loving husband (i.e. people who don’t run) call me a runner. Some are even generous enough to say I’m a good one. I relish in the label. Know why? It gives me an identity. A place to exist in the world of my peers. And their role for me doesn’t include parameters like speed, distance or miles per week. They just see that I do something I enjoy, and they applaud and appreciate me. When they hear I ran 8 miles on Saturday their eyes get big and it makes me feel like a rockstar. It brings me back to the first days of my long training runs last winter, and how big my eyes got when I saw the mileage on my Garmin. “Yes, I really did it, and I am awesome!” I would gush at myself. I was proud. It was enough then. Why shouldn’t it be enough today?

So when it comes to whether I’m a runner or not, whether you are a runner or not, it really is just about perspective. A runner isn’t a person who gets endorsed by shoe companies, or who is an authority on the subject of good form. It isn’t the woman who ran the longest ultra marathon, or the dude with the fastest 10k time. A runner is simply a person who runs. But I’d like to add: a runner is a person who loves to run. This is the runner I am. I shouldn’t forget that this year.

*Also read Kate’s follow up article on Jason Robillard’s site: “Definition of a Perfect Runner

9 thoughts on “The Runner I Am

  1. The article “What is a runner?” was the first part to “Definition of a runner” and the first part shouldn’t be taken out of context with the second article. I deliberately wrote the first article concentrating on a one-dimensional version of a runner. It was a composite of runners I had seen at my running club or at races. The one thing that I saw was that the runners were all running for a goal and not running for what the run could show them. An example is a race I ran last year. It was a beautiful day on a gorgeous trail and 10 mins in a slew of watches beeped and a heap of runners stopped and started walking. They didn’t stop to see the view or to talk with friends, they stopped because their watches beeped and told them to. Okay, it might be what they needed to do to get to the end of the race and get the sense of achievement, but it seemed wrong somehow. It was also an image composed from comments people had said to me; like “I can’t run with you, you are too quick”, “You run so far, I can’t race with you”, “You are too fit, you must train lots”.

    I wrote the first article with a deliberate bias so that I could highlight what I thought was important when running in the second article. I am not fast. I don’t run far. I am not famous. I don’t really get free shoes. I don’t get lots of website hits. People see me when I drop my kid off at school in black lycra and they see me as a runner. They think I am superfit and healthy. They think I run stupid distances and I am super competitive. I’m not and I don’t like that when they call me a “runner” that’s what they see in their head. It creates an illusion of me that isn’t true. However, I do like to call myself a runner when I have run a trail and I experience everything. I like to call myself a runner when I encourage a friend to start running. I like to call myself a runner when running affects how I see my world and it changes other peoples lives.

    • Thank you for the clarification, Kate. I was concentrating on only one section of your article, and not realizing that you mean to refer back to it later. But I will say, I saw a little of myself in that overly nitpicky runner, especially last year. I think it’s what drove me to injury. I wanted to be a runner do badly that I couldn’t see that all I had to do was enjoy myself. I credit your Run Smiley Initiative for smacking me up-side the head with that truth. So, thanks!

  2. I enjoyed this post so much. I now define myself as a runner. I am a stay at home mom and that often defines me. Now that I run and am training for my second half I like that I can define myself as a runner. It is somthing just for me. It is a part of me that is apart from my children. As much as I love them I do not want to be consumed by them. I agree a runner is someone who runs and loves to do it.

  3. Thank you, Trisha. Discovered your blog via Run Barefoot Girl podcast this week. Your story here describes me perfectly. I’ve never run more than 13 miles, rarely more than 20-25 in a week. I run barefoot sometimes, but more often in Vibrams. I’m not vegan or Paleo. Some hardcore folks would scoff at my calling myself a barefoot runner, but to those who matter most, I am perceived as a dedicated barefoot runner.

    So, I dare to blog about it too – as modestly as possible – and share what I learn along the way. Thanks for sharing your journey. Good to find someone having similar experiences.

    I’ll bookmark your page and check in often!

    Stay warm and stay barefoot,

    • Thank you for reading, Tommmy! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. You know, it’s funny…there was once a time when the kind of running we are capable of now seemed impossible and insane. But now we are there, and we are still wondering if it’s enough. I think it’s human nature to never be satisfied, no?

  4. Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I love your writing. Thank you for Kate’s articles as well. I’m still nursing an injury that I’m hoping will be healed enough by new years for me to begin running again. Recently I’ve begun wondering if I’m still allowed to be called a runner if I haven’t run in several weeks, only worked out on boring gym machines. I’ve wondered if my chomping at the bit to get out on the road is only because I loved what people thought about me when I too announced I’d done a “short” run of 8 miles this weekend, basking in their admiration. However, I’m beginning to realize the deep feeling of needing to run in me is more about just that—needing to run. To feel the ground, the wind in my face, experiencing the people, nature, the elements, to feel my body stretch, both physically and mentally. Yes, I am still a runner and I will continue to call myself this until the time comes when I really am not able to hit the road anymore, which I hope is a few decades from now. Meanwhile, c’mon January!!

    • Thanks for your kind words. I am sorry you’re still out with an injury. Being that I spent all summer on the bench, I know where you are coming from. Just do yourself a favor and try to remember that being a runner includes the down time – the extended rest period, if you will. You’ll be back again. And if you’re anything like me, you will enjoy the comeback, even though it’s slow.

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