I've read on a couple different blogs lately that have either tried to define what a runner is, or why someone runs. It's apparently a very common question on runners' mind's this summer. It struck me as interesting when my girl Laura from Absolutly Fit dropped 27.5 miles then posed the question, "At what point do you define yourself as a runner?" I've run with Laura and never would have questioned whether she was a runner or not - she is. But it raises an interesting point...
I mean I can throw a bunch of finger paint on a canvas but that doesn't make me an artist. Or chuck some fruit in a pie crust without deserving the title of baker. Or tackle a European tourist in the middle of 8th Ave and no one is going to buy that I'm an international rugby sensation - especially not the police or the district attorney who don't have a sense of humor when it comes to some German named Gunter sprawled out unconscious in front of Ben and Jerry's. Point is there is some merit in not only doing something, but doing it well. Doing it with style and a certain level of skill. So with that in mind I can see why someone rocking a 10 minute pace would have apprehension about defining them self as a runner.
It actually goes to a long-standing belief I have that while there's more people entering races, and buying shoes, and clogging up the lower loop in Central Park with zero understanding of the etiquette of the road - running as a sport is actually in a state of decline. While it's getting tougher to get into the NYC Marathon with 200,000 people clamoring for 45,000 spots, too many of the people waiting at Fort Wadsworth on November 2nd will be completely under trained and walking by mile 7. The problem is there's too much emphasis on just finishing rather than finishing to the best of ones ability. More people who are content just to cross the line, but don't put in the sacrifices to make it there. More people who think their $120 shoes, and $40 DriFit shirts, and $15 socks, (which are by the way the best waste of $15 you can ever make,) mean that they're runners.
Many/most probably are, but I disagree that just entering the race or even finishing makes you a runner, and it's actually not about speed.
The thing that separates "real" runners from the dude that will be walking down Bedford Ave with an ear to ear grin even though he went out at an 8 minute pace and is blazed by mile 10, is the sacrifices the "runners" will be making in the three months before they're toeing the starting line. It's the 6AM runs, and getting out the door in the rain, and snow, and 94 degree weather. It's the long runs, and bloody nipples, and speed work, and blisters. It's the commitment to putting in the pain it takes to become better, and continuing to strive for it.
But more than anything I think a runner is defined by our ability to overcome our own self imposed limitations, dig down into the dark recesses of our own wills, and gut it out despite the fact that there's nothing left. You become a runner the first time you push through a long run even though you want to quit, or PR despite the fact you don't really have it that day, or just go out and push yourself on a random Wednesday night faster or further than you've gone before. It's addictive, and fulfilling, and no matter how fast or slow you're moving it's a euphoria that you can get at any pace.
So when can you define yourself as a runner? It's a personal thing, but the good part is that you get a chance to answer the question every time you lace up.
As the most interesting man in the world would say: "Stay thirsty my friends."