Saturday, June 1, 2013

8:40 PM
You Don't Have to Win to be a Winner
(Thanks to Age Group Categories)
I heard two comments on the way to the start line at the race today that I thought about a lot during the next 13.1 miles.

The first was a woman saying to her friend "The half-marathon starts first. That is the race for the real runners".

The second was a different woman describing the AIDS ride to a friend, and comparing it to a marathon because " see all sorts of people, with all different levels of fitness, doing it".

So which is it? Are real runners only the elite? Or are they the everyman, who despite outward appearances are capable of major feats of endurance?

As someone who runs often, who even does races with some frequency, I have never considered myself a real runner. I guess that is because I have always reserved that term for the fleet and sinewy, for the pre-dawn risers, and for the people that run marathons (I just consider the people that do ultras crazy folks).

So, relative to my own limited definition, what am I then? What are the millions of other people who strap on a pair of shoes and pound out the miles every week in obscurity? Who show up at races under-trained and over-worked and barely-slept and push themselves past their own walls and chase their own demons to the finish line? Who are we?

I am not a jogger, well not usually. I am not a walker, except when pregnant. There is no other verb to describe what I do other than running, and therefore no other noun to describe me other than runner. I ran the half-marathon today, even placed in the event, so by at least one woman's definition I am a real runner. But I have never run a marathon, not even close. An ultra is out of the question. So by the other woman's metric, I am not even as bold as the everyman.

I thought about this dichotomy a lot during the race today, not just in the context of running, but with respect to other aspects of life (i.e., the relative barometers we all use to gauge ourselves). It was a quiet race as I am finding that trail races are. The pack thins out quickly on the hills and trails. I ran without music and just enjoyed the views from a new place, a new perspective on the bay. I took stock of the diverse crowd running the several events, the elite runners in their singlets and compression socks, the woman running with her walking boot on, the guy with the long, white mohawk, the overweight parents walking the 5K with their young kids, and the guy in a wheelchair, cheering at the start and finish line. This was humanity in all forms, representing all phases of life, each one inspiring in their own way. Each out there, fiercely and in the process, defining for themselves what it means to be a real runner.

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  1. I think the last line is key. No matter how other people define a 'real runner', how you define yourself is all that matters. I run every day, I subscribe to Runner's World, I have lots of running gear, but I don't consider myself a 'real runner' because I don't enjoy it.

    Cardio keeps my blood pressure down though, so I do it. But for me, it's like scrubbing toilets or doing laundry...just another unpleasant chore that needs to be done. If you asked me, I'd tell you I was a weightlifter because that's what I love doing.