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“