When you start running it takes a long time to feel like a "real" runner. It's hard at first, and every day feels like a struggle. The little secret though is that sometimes even after you've been running for a while you think you may not be a "real" runner. I read Runner's World every month, and the people featured are often people accomplishing major feats in running. Where is the feature of the person starting out who is 40 pounds overweight, and every day it sucks? Or the person who consistently runs a 10-minute mile and is thrilled with it? (That person is me on a lot of days).
Last year Runner's World did feature some regular (i.e. not professional) runners on its cover, but even the "regular" people were faster and more motivated than the average bear. After more than seven years of running and countless races, I know I'm a real runner. But what does "real" mean for each person?
I'm never going to qualify for Boston. I'm not fast enough, and honestly I really don't want to. I don't love running marathons. The training is too much, and I find that I just don't enjoy it (hence why I switched to the half marathon in Pittsburgh this weekend). After 12 half marathons, my half marathon PR is a 2:02. That's respectable, but I can't seem to break that two hour mark. My health issues have made my training for Pittsburgh sporadic at best. If I break my PR this weekend I'll be shocked, but considering my body's betrayal of me the last month or so I'll be happy with a 2:10 or 2:15 race.
I'm generally content with this year's low expectation approach to race season, but every now and then I think a "real" runner would be doing more speed work and pushing harder. This type of thinking certainly does me a disservice, but it also does a disservice to all those people who are starting and even those who have been running for years.
I have several friends doing Couch to 5k, and I am SO proud of them. I know it's a struggle; I remember those days of starting. Even seven years, twelve half marathons, two marathons and dozens of 5k and 10k races, I have runs that suck. The key is getting out there. This week I've had to be at work early a few days and haven't had time to get in a decent run. I've done only two miles on those days, but at least I've done something.
Every person who laces up their shoes and does it is a real runner. It doesn't matter if you walk sometimes, if it feels too hard or you want to quit. You're doing it. And that is awesome. So here's to all of those people who lace up their shoes and hit the streets. We are all, my friends, REAL runners.