A few years ago when I first came back to really running on a regular basis I was reading an article in the New York Times. It was the week before the New York Marathon and the article was about marathon runners and how certain runners regard others. The main emphasis of the article was on sub 4 hour marathoners vs. those runners who take 4-8 hours to complete a marathon. Many of the faster runners went on to basically say that it annoyed them that people would complete a 6 hour marathon and say that they “ran” it. According to the article, faster runners felt like this wasn’t really running a marathon and more of a brisk walk. To be a real marathon runner meant truly running a sub 4 hour marathon.
At the time I had never completed a marathon. My husband had also asked me earlier that summer if I thought I was a runner and I told him that I wasn’t because I really only ran about 3 miles a day (oh he misses those days!). But reading that article suddenly had me feeling a bit angry, in fact I was fuming!
There are certainly many runners who work very hard and spend a lot of time training. Many of those runners are blessed with the gift of being a good runner, or spent years training with a cross country team, or played other endurance sports growing up. Regardless of their talent, running a marathon is incredibly difficult for them and for most of the people out there.
Others have watched these races for years and drew on the inspiration of seeing those fast runners speed past them. Perhaps they wanted to get in shape, or run to honor someone they know who is suffering from a disease, or maybe they just plain wanted to experience everything a marathon is from start to finish. Standing on the sidelines of a marathon or any race of any distance is inspirational. As far as I am concerned, they are runners. Something I have come to realize is, everyone struggles to complete a marathon, at any level of the game. Watching The Spirit of the Marathon II this past summer it became clear to me that the elite runners feel the same pain as the beginners during the race. We just experience the same things both the good and bad at a different pace. The distance of the marathon is created to make you struggle, to bring you to the brink of depletion. Everyone hurts and everyone struggles in their own ways.
I often meet people who tell me they are runners and then sheepishly shrug and say, “Well I am not a real runner. I am pretty slow.” They say it almost as if it is an apology.
Runners come in all shapes and sizes, young and old. Maybe you run a 6:30 minute mile or perhaps it takes you 15:00 minutes to finish that same mile. There is no cutoff determining whether or not you are a runner. In fact one of the most inspiring runners I know is a gentleman I run past every morning along the East River when I am in New York. This man is most likely in his late 70’s or even early 80’s. He has that runner’s build that comes from years and years of pounding his feet along paths and trails. Every morning he wears a shirt from a race he has completed, and every morning he slowly shuffles along, head straight in front, covering mile after mile. Clearly there was a time when he ran much faster, but this is the pace his body has settled into and you can see that he truly loves his time spent running. As you pass, he always gives a thumbs up and says hello or comments on the day. He may not move fast, but I dare you to tell me he isn’t a runner.
To be honest, a lot of what running is comprised of sucks. It makes your lungs burn, your muscles ache, snot comes out your nose, there are the stomach issues, toe nails fall out, you smell bad….I could go on forever. Anyone who gets the motivation to lace up their shoes and push themselves through those struggles to find whatever it is they need from running, is a runner.
You can run fast or slow, short or long. You can take breaks and walk. You can race or just do it for fun and on your own terms. This is not some exclusive club that you have to find your way into. This is a lifestyle. It one of the hardest and yet best ways to find a good sweat, to clear your head, or find a better you. If you run, allow yourself to be a runner. And if you are a runner, find a way give a smile of encouragement to others when you are out there. Give them a thumbs up. Show your support and encourage others to be a part of the community.