Last year during my marathon preparation I set PR after PR in terms of miles during a run. While in college I had done some long runs around 15 miles but since I was training for mostly 5k's and because our training system was more low mileage, I never got much above that. So, after completing my first 20 miler last March, I wrote on daily mile that I felt like I had become a "real runner."
After competing a pretty high level at a younger age and enjoying a relative level of success, why would it take me so long to consider myself a "real runner?" Well, just for fun, I thought I'd give some of my opinions of what makes somebody the real deal when it comes to running.
1. It's all relative
Real runners understand that their performances, times, mileage, and commitment are the best that they can offer. If your max capacity is to run a 25 minute 5k then you are a real runner when you hit that goal. A real runner realizes what's in the tank and how much work and consistency it takes to get there. Of course, nobody is perfect, and one doesn't PR at every race. In fact, that's part of it. The real runner knows that it was the best they had that day and that the preparation was done.
2. Everything is done on purpose
Again, with all of these there are always exceptions to the rule or just plain laziness involved. After all, we're not all professional runners so we don't have the luxury of training exactly like Ryan Hall unless you have seriously flexibility in your work and home schedule. That being said, real runners don't just put on their shoes and sprint out the door. There is a method to the madness. I think this is one thing that separates the occasional jogger (nothing wrong with that by the way, no judgments coming from me) and the competitive runner. The idea is that, while training, one has hard days and easy days. Sometimes we do dynamic stretching and sometimes static. Sometimes we have sprints or hill repeats or long runs. But this is all done according to the knowledge that these things will help us to improve. That, by the way, is the reason we do things on purpose: we actually want to get faster. There is nothing wrong with the person who just wants to lose a couple of pounds by jogging from time to time but in my opinion, that's a different thing than what real runners do.
3. Limits are Tested
Real runners want to see how far or how fast they can run. They want to test the physical limits that God has given them to see where the line is. One of the reasons that I felt like a "real runner" last year after my 20 miler had nothing to do with ability. I used to have more leg speed and maybe more raw talent (but the verdict is still out on that one, give me a year or two), but I always knew I hadn't tested the limits. I remember before my first college xc race when my coach told me just to try to run with our #1 guy because he thought I could hang. I didn't even try. At that point I was not even close to mentally tough enough to hang and he beat me by 2 minutes easily. That kind of thinking marked my college career for the most part and I think most of my friends knew that I had more in the tank but I never really came through for a bunch of reasons. This brings us back to the "relative" idea but when you become a real runner, you know yourself. You can say whatever you want to your friends, and compared to them, you're a crazy person for running as much as you do, but you know deep down whether you're doing the best you can do or not. I'm just finding out now what that means for me.
4. Joy in the Journey
I really loved Ryan Hall's book Running with Joy if not for the sole fact that he really showed how much he loves to run. The guy is ridiculous in terms of talent but he goes out there on a daily basis and loves those easy runs, hard runs, long runs, and short runs. A real runner actually likes to run. This is the biggest separator of the now-and-then jogger and a real runner. To be honest, go ahead and ignore points 1-3 if you don't agree, but I would go down fighting for this one. Real runners love putting on their shoes, love the wind in the face, love the burn in the legs, the endorphin highs, the race days or the early mornings in the dark. Real runners love to sync their legs with their minds and MOVE. A lot of people who want to get in shape never survive that first painful part where you have to be patient as your body and heart catch up to a body who is wondering what the heck you're doing to it. But those who do cross the border, those who get over the hump, know that running is one of the greatest things in the world. It's not the thing. Give me a break, would I trade my kids or my family or my faith for running? Of course not. But, as a real runner (I hope at least), I wouldn't give up running for a whole lot. That's just because I really love to run.
Are you a real runner? What do you think makes someone a REAL RUNNER?