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What Is A “Runner?”

Posted by on May 31, 2011 | 12 Comments

By Kate Kift, BRU Staff Writer

Quite often when we meet new people in a social situation, we are asked “What do you do?”.  Very few of us will turn around and say “I am a runner”.  If you did then you are usually pretty famous and would probably say “athlete” more than “runner”.  Or,  you would be pretty hopeful and be overstating yourself. When you get asked this question your response will be more likely your main occupation.  Currently I am trying to cultivate the response of “lady of leisure and general wastrel” but it isn’t working.

However, a lot of people count themselves as “runners”.  It makes me wonder why.  I have always tried to maintain a “Non-runner” status, despite what my friends and family may think.  For me, the reasoning behind this is more from the fact that I find it very hard to define what makes you a “Runner”. I am very black and white like that.  What are the rules that make you a “runner”?

As mentioned “running” isn’t usually our main occupation.  It isn’t what we spend the majority of our life doing.  For most of us it is a hobby; a recreation; a free-time activity.  Some of us may only run 10 miles a week, some may run over 70 – yet all these people may count themselves as runners. So by definition, it isn’t the amount of time we spend at the activity that determines if we meet the criteria.  What is an acceptable weekly mileage for a Mum with special-needs kids?  Is it different to someone who lives alone and has no family responsibilities?

Do you have to reach a certain pace or time to become a “runner”?  I remember briefly reading that a long time ago, you weren’t counted as a runner unless you ran a 7 min mile.  Then I read you had to hit a 9 min mile pace.  However, people who run a slower pace than this count themselves as runners.  But surely pace is also related to distance.  Someone running a 7 min mile pace over 26+ miles is more insane than a runner.  However, running a 7 min mile pace over half a mile maybe nothing more than a quick sprint.

Perhaps it’s how far you run?  That can’t work too.  You have athletes who only race 100 metres and they are counted as runners.  You also have Ultra-marathoners who will run in excess of 30 miles.  They are still in the same group.  I know people who will think 3 miles is a long way and yet there are others who think that only runs over 30 miles is long-distance.  I sometimes wonder what categorizes a “Long-distance” runner.  Is there a certain distance where everything below is a short or medium distance and everything above is a long distance?  I know a lot of friends who do run Ultra-marathons and so to me 13 miles seems a short distance to run.  However, when people know I have run half-marathons, they all assume that I am a “long-distance” runner.

Is it how seriously we take our pastime?  Some people live, breathe and sleep running.  I have never managed to figure out HOW they do it, as well as why?  They have their schedules mapped out months in advance.  They know precisely how many GU shots they have on their run, how much fluid… heck, I am sure they have even mapped out when they are going to pee.  They buy all the latest gadgets, have the most hi-tech clothing and will buy the running magazines and guides.  Their weekly running schedule is taped to the fridge and it is followed religiously.  Does this make you a runner?  Does your devotion to the sport qualify you to “Runner” status?

I have run a number of races and I have always been struck how miserable some of these “Runners” are.  They time their walking breaks precisely and they know exactly when they will take in food and water.  They see running as a way to get to the end and not the journey the run should take them.  There is a look of pain on their face as they push for a certain pace or a certain time.  They are elated if they reach it, but then completely despondent when they don’t.  Even a few minutes outside of a Personal Best is enough to bring feelings of dejection.  Is this running? Are you a “runner” when you take the activity -a pastime- so seriously that you will focus on arbitrary measures and lament yourself when you don’t reach them? Are you a “runner” when you run and yet are miserable at the same time?

Are you truly a “Runner” if you have discovered that pace, splits and finish times AREN’T what should drive you?  When you realize that the run is about the experiences you have whilst you run.  Can you count yourself a “runner” when you realize that a run is the journey from one place to another and reaching a Zen-like state as you do this.  Are you a “runner” when you run and you have fun doing it?

Maybe it is if you become an advocate for the sport?  Inadvertently, I have become an advocate for running. Okay, more an advocate of barefoot and minimalist running.  It’s still unusual and I get asked lots of questions; there aren’t that many of us out there, although the trend is growing.  People are curious when they see a middle-aged Mum running barefoot or in her home-made shoes, so they ask questions.  As a consequence I have become a point of contact for people who are interested in Barefoot running.  Have I become a “Runner”, because of my advocacy of a “specialized” off-shoot of the sport and my quirky actions?

Are you a “Runner” if other people THINK you are a runner?  Almost like you are a runner by how people define you.  People look at me and call me a “Runner”.  I don’t think of myself as a runner, but as a person who likes to run – yet, this definition follows me everywhere.  As if I can’t escape it.  It’s not me who has decided this definition of myself, but other people’s perception of me. Are we defined by others?

I know that like most things in life, categorizations are not black and white.  There are always a lot of layers of grey and we all fit in different shaped boxes.  Definitions can always be subjective.  Even when something is written down as law, there are always different interpretations to suit someones’ view point.  I suppose if you checked the dictionary the definition of a “runner” is just “someone who runs”.  Perhaps that’s it.. that’s all it is.  It just seems strange that someone who runs 3 miles in complete misery is the same -by definition- as someone who runs 50 miles because they love the feeling the run gives them.

Perhaps it’s time that I made my definition of a runner…




Check out Kate’s blog at  Also check out the new project she has spearheaded- the Run Smiley Collective.

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  1. Rob
    June 2, 2011

    I consider myself an “athlete” first and foremost. While a lot of folks only discovered exercise and running late in life I’ve been very active in the outdoors since I was a child. As I grew older my focuses changed, but I’ve always been an athlete. I’ve been a runner for over 20 years now and while I may not always be able to run, I will always continue to be an athlete. It is a state of mind, it is a lifestyle, it is part of my deepest core of how I define myself. I run for fun, because I enjoy the journey, the experience. However I also enjoy running for awards and belt buckles and to attempt to maximize my potential, my gifts. Everything in moderation, even moderation!

  2. Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton
    June 1, 2011

    As I like to encourage people, listen to how it feels to you.

    Likewise, the question isn’t really if others define you as a runner, but whether or not you feel like a runner. And, as you’ve pointed out, few actually run full-time, so perhaps we could qualify this question, “Do you feel like running is natural for you, while you are running?”

    If so, if you feel comfortable while running, if you actually enjoy the process of running (not just the finish/end), then you are more of a runner (in my opinion) than those who act as if running is a chore, or a way to get a medal, or award, and not a joy in itself!

  3. None
    June 1, 2011

    I remember reading in a beginner’s running book by Amby Burfoot that if the question of whether you are a runner even occurs to you, then you are a runner.

  4. Cozmo
    June 1, 2011

    I run, therefor I am. If you consider yourself to be a runner then you are. I’d rather define myself by a passion than by what I do to pay the rent.

    Great post KK 🙂

  5. briderdt
    May 31, 2011

    This reminds me of a chapter in George Sheehan’s book “Running and Being”, where, when he was asked what was his religion, he answered, “I’m a runner.” Maybe that gets into the area you were talking about where pace, distance, etc., doesn’t define what a “runner” is…

  6. Ken S.
    May 31, 2011

    Being a runner is a state of mind. If you think you’re a runner, then you are runner.

    I think there for I am – a runner 🙂

  7. Brandon Mulnix
    May 31, 2011

    Kate great post, I have a lengthy response that goes along with it at

  8. Arun
    May 31, 2011

    I think a runner is defined as someone who pushes their physical abilities to the very farthest extent, and makes the most out of their talent, whether it be running a sub-2:10 marathon or just finishing a 10k.

  9. shel
    May 31, 2011

    loves it kitty. i choose not to call myself a runner, or cringe when i have to say “ultrarunner” to those who ask. i am simply, a person who runs. if running is your identity, you become a nobody if you cannot do it. if injury or illness were to take you out forever, would you be lost along with it? i am a person who does a lot of things and loves a lot of things, yet none of these things define me. i am defined wholey by Who loves me, everything else is just temporary.

  10. Nora
    May 31, 2011

    Wow! Thank you!! I can actually relate to your “Runner” as I have TRAINED for many marathons and always wound up miserable and injured. I’m re learning now to just run.. and enjoy it. Thankyou!

  11. michael andrew
    May 31, 2011

    Great post!
    I like to think of the entire human race as falling into one of two categories: active runners and dormant runners.
    Every part of our bodies from head to foot is designed for running. Whether we run fast or slow, love it or hate it, schedule it or improvise, we are all runners.

  12. Randy
    May 31, 2011

    Great post!
    No madder the circumstance, its always going to be way different for everybody. Running is a huge part of my life, the barefoot & minimalist running, is what i strive for everyday, i am a better father because of running changed my attitude my lifestyle, how i live everyday running has shaped me into that.
    I consider myself a runner, not because of how much i do it, but because of the journey it has taken me on, and me striving to learn more about this sport i love. And teach others my knowledge and information and everything i learn.

    Its not about times, not about races, not about how many miles you clock a week…. If running like anything you do in life is what you are then thats what you are. We are all a lot of things but a runner is just one small little teeny tiny bit of what makes us.