“What is a runner?”

The word “runner” causes problems for a lot of people. Until recently it still caused me problems on occasion. I vividly recall a discussion with my Dad one evening in April 2011 when he referred to me as “a runner” and I corrected him, as I always did when people made that mistake, “no Dad, I’m not a runner”. It was the night before I ran my first Marathon.

The problem with the term “runner” is that it creates a very specific image – to me it was the image of a confident lycra clad athlete gliding effortlessly along a beautiful trail somewhere. The sun beaming down as they smile and take in the scenery, skipping along merrily without a care in the world. Definitely not me. I had completed 6 months of training, running consistently 3 times per week, distances up to 20 miles. I had purchased countless ‘running accessories’ – from trainers and clothing to energy gels and phone apps. I was pretty confident I could finish the 26.2 mile course the following day, and would then happily call myself a “marathon finisher”. But I was definitely. Not. “A runner”.

I was running the London Marathon to raise money for a local hospice, so at best I was a “charity runner” – not an “actual runner”. I clearly wouldn’t have a hope of fitting in with real “runners” who did this sort of thing as a hobby. For fun. I was comfortable with the idea that with a bit of will power and consistency I should be able to complete the marathon, but very aware that the whole idea was that it was a crazy, and quite ridiculous, challenge to raise as much money as possible. It worked – I had some serious donations coming in from all walks of my life, which was brilliant, but in turn fed into my assumption that what I was doing was something that was “not me” and therefore quite worthy of lots of sponsorship. There was always part of me that felt I would never fit in with “real runners” - and quite a comforting belief that I didn’t need to. After all, I had hated cross country at school. I had been half decent at sports generally but no superstar, so there was little point in trying to fit in. It was never going to happen. I wasn’t “a runner”. All I was doing was running a little bit – enough to raise some money.

In fact it took me three years of running off and on, entering, training for and completing numerous races including distances of 5k, 10k, half and full marathon, and then joining a running club, before I finally admitted I would have to stop correcting people when they called me “a runner”.

I now run and race regularly, and the question of whether I am “a runner” or not is less of an issue – particularly amongst fellow “runners” – unsurprisingly there tends to be more actual running and less philosophical discussion at running club. But amongst “non-runners”, until recently, I found it was sometimes still an issue. Friends and family who heard of my running exploits often wanted to discuss running with me, knowing that I “did a bit of running”.

In these conversations we would get onto the topic of their running - whether this was a desire to start or their recent first tentative running steps. They then confidently claimed “I’m not a runner” – where have we heard that before? In that context I found it difficult to claim I was equally not “a runner”, and increasingly aware that they were going through the same thing I once had – and the same insecurities are playing on their minds. Running gives you a lot – not only is it great exercise, it is also great for the mind – but it isn’t always easy, and it only makes it more difficult to add unhelpful labels and barriers to your progress.

Looking back at my old definition, I thought “a runner” was someone confident about their running. In my experience this is far from true – “runners” are like everyone else and confidence levels vary from “runner” to “runner”, day to day, and sometimes minute to minute! “Runners” do wear lycra, but it is not a requirement. They wear what they feel comfortable in. “Runners” may, on occasion “glide”, but it is usually far from effortless. The best “runners” know when to put in the effort and those who appear to be “gliding” have been consistently investing their effort to reach that point. When they go all out in their next race the effort will be obvious – some of the world’s best “runners” are often seen collapsing at the end of their races, having pushed themselves to their limits. Volunteer at your local parkrun and it will soon become clear that those of all abilities go out there and push themselves to their limits, whether they are finishing 1st or 400th. “Runners” may enjoy the sun and scenery once in a while, but that is not what makes them “a runner”. And as for having no cares in the world, they are like everyone else – juggling numerous cares, but they appreciate that running gives them space to deal with their issues, and maybe even find solutions out there on the road or trail.

So with my old definition blown out of the water, how are you supposed to know if you are “a runner” – and save yourself the pondering – and a lot of unnecessary squirming. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simple - a “runner” is “a person that runs” – put simply, you run, so you’re “a runner”.

If you are putting your trainers on, lycra clad or otherwise, and heading out of the door, putting one foot in front of the other at a pace quicker than a walk, you are “a runner” and whatever misgivings you have about the word you need to accept it, deal with it, and start convincing others that they are, or can be, runners too. That way we can all get out of our own way, get on with our running, improve our fitness and build the confidence to reach for our goals – in running or in life.

On the off chance you are still squirming, unsure if you will ever get used to calling yourself, or being called “a runner” – the best advice I can give is to get those trainers on and get out there – by the time you get past your front gate it will be too late.

Making life Totally Runable…

Natalie Jackson is co-founder of Totally Runable, a company delivering seminars, team building days, courses and charity event training mixing running with self development.

Totally Runable believe everyone has the potential to be great. They’re all about sharing the ways running teaches us about life, and about helping you to break through your own personal barriers to reach your goals. Whether you’d like to feel more like a runner, run a marathon, or you have your own personal targets on the horizon, it’s your head that’ll get you there. And they’ll be the first to tell you that you can totally do it.

If you need some inspiration they have a range of courses mixing self-development with running training, from seminars to charity event training programmes. Get in touch with them by email nat@totallyruanble.com or by phone on 07738712434 for more information and to find the perfect course for you or your organisation.