What is a runner? What is the difference between a runner and a ‘real runner’ (which seems, even when said verbally, to always be in inverted commas)? I was left to ponder this again after the weekend with the topic being raised at two events.
Firstly, I attended the Ararat parkrun (great event, read the blog!) where I was fortunate enough to run with a whole range of runners of different experience levels and varying speeds. One fabulous lady who was clearly giving it her all made a comment, after my words of encouragement, that she wasn’t a ‘real runner’. My reply – of course you are, you’re running, aren’t you? What’s not real about that?
And then, in the wake of the London marathon, I was reading Facebook comments on their page as people prepare for the ballot to open for next year’s event. And that phrase came up again, in an exceptionally dispiriting context – people commenting that only ‘real runners’ should be given places to run in the marathon, as opposed to those who might dare to complete the marathon in something less than a ‘reasonable’ time. The implication was that these somehow fake runners shouldn’t be taking up a place that a real runner might want.
So, 2 comments about ‘real runners’, made in two very different contexts yet very closely linked. Thankfully, in my experience, attitudes like those seen commenting on London marathon participation are in the minority however are still hurtful and damaging. It doesn’t matter how proud you are of your achievements or how supportive your friends are – hearing those comments about your speed not being fast enough or you taking the place of some genetically gifted person who ‘clearly’ worked harder than you did hurts and erodes your self confidence.
It took me a long time to see myself as a real runner (no inverted commas needed). Early on, I encountered some comments about my speed or about the fact that I have walk breaks and they took a while to get over. Slowly, I realised that most of these comments were not coming from runners, they were coming from people who didn’t actually get anything about running and, therefore, weren’t qualified to make me feel bad about what I did or how I did it. Since I made the switch to viewing myself as a runner, I either haven’t heard further comments directed my way or they have slipped off my aerodynamic form as I bolt past 🙂 If you run, you’re a runner – it’s that simple. As John Bingham says, there’s no licence and no test and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been doing it for a few weeks or most of your life. Note that I made the switch to how I viewed myself – nothing about my speed or form or frequency of training changed. I just realised that I ran therefore was a runner.
So, to the runner I met at Ararat – you’re a runner and don’t ever doubt it. You pushed it to your limit on Saturday and should be proud of what you did. Disregard anyone’s negative comments if they didn’t also get up for an 8am start on a Saturday morning and push it their hardest.
To those who think I shouldn’t be putting my name in the London Marathon ballot for next year because, if I were lucky enough to get a slot, there’s a very real chance I would take more than what you consider a ‘reasonable time’ – I’m sorry you feel that way. Mostly because I’m sorry you haven’t had the experience of hanging out with runners of all speeds, shapes, sizes and running styles. If you had, you’d realise that we’re actually very similar, speed aside – we both train hard, we both have doubts, we both push ourselves to our personal limits, we both would dearly like to go faster, we both worry about injuries and we both experience an amazing sense of pride when we achieve a long sought after goal. So, if I’m lucky enough to get to be out on that course next year, I’ll be thinking of you and hoping you’ve been able to experience the better side of running and not just the narrow vision you have today.