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…