I think (I’m a Runner), Therefore I am (a Runner)

“Running” an obstacle course race.

“Are you a runner?” I’ve always had difficulty answering this question. My initial thought to that question is, “It depends who’s asking.” I might consider myself a runner this week, but in a few months that could change. I don’t want that to be the answer. Why can’t I give a straight yes or no answer? If someone who golfs once a month was asked, “Are you a golfer?” they would likely reply, “Yes.” What does it take to be a real runner? A mileage threshold? A pace per mile? A stack of race bibs? Or is it a state of mind or being? I think (I’m a runner), therefore I am (a runner).

In an effort to answer this question, let me present my running profile. I’ve been running as part of my overall fitness for over 20 years. In that time my running quantity and quality have ebbed and flowed and peaked and valleyed. I’ve loved running. I’ve been hurt. I’ve missed it. My longest run is a half marathon, 13.1 miles. The most miles I’ve ran in a week is 22 miles. Running 20 miles is a good weekend for some runners and that’s my max in a week. But 20 miles is four 5-milers in a week. Isn’t that enough to be a runner? 

I’ve run race distances from 5Ks to half marathons, road and trail races, flat and hilly, from sea level to 10,000 ft, as well as several multisport races and triathlons. On the other hand, I don’t have a desire to run a marathon. All 4 of my half-marathons occurred in a 12-month period. Once I let go of that level of endurance, I haven’t had the desire to bring it back.

From a state of mind, my favorite run and my third favorite exercise is a great trail run. It’s mentally and physically refreshing and exhausting. From a running culture perspective, I’m familiar with several running sites and blogs and follow numerous running accounts. I’ve read the key running books. I even had a blog, now cobwebbed, about fitness and running. With all of the above, when I picture a “runner” I don’t see myself in that picture. Maybe I should. I used to think of myself as much more of runner than I do now, even though my mileage was less. What happened? I moved to Colorado and entered into its running community. Nothing will have you question your fitness level like being passed by someone twice your age, going backwards, wearing a gorilla suit.

Post race beers. As good a reason as any to be a runner.

It ultimately comes down to perspective. My perspective is that I compare my running to the “real runners” in the Colorado running community. Those runners that start at the front of the pack and finish a race in times I don’t even consider running. They’re people who can run a 50K at a faster pace than I can run a 5K. So if I’m asking the question, then the answer is no, I’m not a runner. Sorry running community, but I’ll stay on your periphery.

Hold on. The following New York Times article published in 2012 states that 40% of Americans say they never exercise and only 3.5% of Americans age 18-59 do the minimum amount of recommended physical activity. So compared to 96.5% of Americans I guess I am a runner.

Final thought: maybe the reason I haven’t taken my running to the next level is that I don’t see myself as a runner. If I’m not a runner after doing half marathons, triathlons, 10 and 11 mile training runs, and countless other miles over the past 20 years, when will I ever be a runner? So, yes, I am a runner. (Maybe.) Cogito, ergo sum.  

Are you a runner? Are you a real runner? Does it really matter?

This is updated from the original article I wrote in 2012 on my old blog.