Marathon Update: On Being a Runner

If you run you are a runnerBetween preparing for the marathon and the IRONMAN, my workout schedule is 6 days a week with a few days that include more than one workout (fricking early morning swimming)  In addition to swimming, biking, plyometrics, and core work, my workouts include plenty of runs – tempo runs, interval runs, and long runs, all of various speeds, distances, and ratios of running and walking.

I’ve hesitated to call myself a runner. I wasn’t when I did my first marathon – I was very clear that I was walking that marathon, I signed up for the walker division, I walked it.  Now, though, I’m doing lots more running, but I’ve still been unsure about calling myself a runner.

But I’ve been spending more time on forums for runners and triathletes which has given me new perspectives on lots of stuff.  I talked about this on the IronFat blog as it relates to the different concerns that I have as a fat athlete, but it’s also given me perspective about what is means to be a runner. Plenty of the people in these forums struggle with running exactly like I do, they do intervals of walks and runs exactly as I do, and they are comfortable calling themselves runners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in the sport of running that is very different than what I experienced in ballroom dance is the contempt of some of the high level/serious runners for beginners, casual runners, or those who aren’t very good at running.

In the dance world this was not my experience (which, of course, isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen to others) – when I was a beginner, pros and judges and people far better than I was asked me (and others like me ) to dance, they got up early to cheer for us, they encouraged us. As I got better I passed that along and even when I was dancing in the more advanced and professional divisions in the afternoons I still got up early to watch the beginners at 7am (because nobody should have to do East Coast Swing before 8am without a cheering crowd.)

Many of the runners who I’ve interacted with personally have been super cool and supportive, so I certainly don’t intend for this to apply to all runners, but it seems like there is a very vocal group of runners  whose self-esteem is so fragile that they actually have to create a “cool kids club” and then insist that other people can’t join it as a way to try to feel ok about themselves.  And that’s sad, of course, but it’s also a big flaming sack of not my problem. (This group is separate from, but similar in message to, the people who send me hatemail who only ever run as far as the bathroom, but want to criticize what I do)

A big part of my activism when it comes to fitness is about insisting that nobody of any size is obligated to participate in fitness, but that everyone of any size who wants a place in the fitness world should have one.  And that includes calling ourselves runners even if we don’t do it the way that the self-appointed “cool kids” think we should.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a run. You see, I’m a runner.

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25 thoughts on “Marathon Update: On Being a Runner

  1. you would think, wouldnt you, that all people would have to hear is yr extraordinary exercise schedule before each & everyone one of them would, you should excuse, shut the fork up about eating less & exercising more? you can throw in my sixths of sandwiches if you want on the eating less side, but, oh my heavens, yr workouts beat even that.

  2. I wonder if the ‘cool kids’ are fighting a deep fear of injury or something else that would stop them from being runners, which is their core identity.

  3. I’ve run into some of these same mentalities. Some of that is having people laugh at my running workouts- I’m not a fast runner or good at running, but so fucking what? I’m certainly not gong to get faster or better by not running, am I? So what the fuck is accomplished by mocking what I am doing now?
    I’ve also been told that since most people workout to be thin, and I’m not thin, obviously I know absolutely nothing about fitness (even though I don’t workout to be thin, so my not being thin is not a sign of an inability to reach a goal.)
    I’ve noticed there tend to be 2 types of people who are experienced in their area of fitness. There are those who are confident in themselves and enjoy seeing new people enjoy the same thing as them and want to see others succeed. Then there are those who are in it to give them something to feel superior to others for, so they see others progress as a threat (unless they can somehow take partial credit it for it), because their entire reason for doing what they do is to build their self-worth around being superior to others.

    I saw a similar quote awhile back that said if you run, lift, et cetera then you are an athlete. I notice more and more people using that term loosely like that but I’ve yet to get comfortable with that one. I’ve always thought of an athlete as someone who competes at a particular sport. I don’t compete in any formal competitions (you could say I compete against myself, but that’s not what I’m referring to) so I don’t consider myself an athlete for running, lifting, et cetera.

  4. The Penguin is awesome! His columns got me through a lot of training. I was always last in the group, but they stayed and always said “good job.” You are a runner.

  5. That’s one thing I loved about triathlon….I was a solid back of packer and the fast people would stay to cheer us on. It was this big community of “yup, our sport is hard for everyone and we all look silly in our spandex suits that we wear from the swim to the bike to the run”…it was easier for me to call myself a triathlete than a runner 🙂

    1. I was going to say the same.
      I’ve noticed the “cool kids club” in running. But you add another two activities and all of a sudden, everyone gets supportive. It’s really wonderful.
      When you finish your Ironman tons of people will be cheering you across the finish line.

  6. I am not naturally a very athletic person, to the point where I’m almost certainly never going to be among the best at any sport or physical activity, no matter how long or hard I work at it, and if I’m brand new to the sport, I will almost certainly be one of the worst. For this reason, a sense of community and welcoming of people at all levels is super important to me in any group sport/fitness activity. I know a lot of people have issues with Crossfit, and some of their critiques are totally valid, but the Crossfit gym I go to is the only fitness community where I’ve felt like a welcome, valued member from day one. There are two athletes at my gym who have competed and placed in international championships . . . and I’be had both of them cheer me on as I struggled to finish a workout that they could probably do without breaking a sweat. I actually think the ability to welcome and support anyone who chooses to try your sport, regardless of their level, is a key part of what defines someone as an “athlete.”

  7. I started running regularly in March and since then have done a 10k, half marathon, and 15k and I now do 7-10 mi long runs 1x/week. I still don’t really call myself a runner. Maybe because it is sort of an identity category. On the other hand, I *do* consider myself a powerlifter, since powerlifting is something I compete in and put much more personal stake in doing well. Whereas for running my goals pretty much extend to “finishing this race w/o walking or dying” lol.

    I feel lucky in that pretty much every runner I’ve met IRL has been super supportive. The snarkiness you speak of makes me just a little glad I haven’t involved myself with any online running forums.

  8. Anyone who is so threatened by someone new joining their sport/art form or what have you that they feel a need to pounce on newbies like sharks on chum is seriously in need of some therapy to deal with that inferiority complex they have on such raw display.

    If that sort of behavior is endemic to the activity, one is tempted to wonder why it attracts such broken people in the first place.

    Acting, singing, lace making, baking, Scottish country dance… pretty much every creative/athletic activity I’ve ever joined in on, new faces were welcomed and encouraged. Ones with obvious talent rose quickly, while those who had more of a struggle to learn got mostly encouragement. Sure, there might be one or two people who were threatened by a shooting star, but the vast majority made people welcome.

    So I have to ask, what is it about running?

  9. I am a runner and used to be a regular contributor to a UK based running forum. I’m not any more because it was full of unpleasant and fat hating posters who thought that anything less than 10 minute miling was walking (!)

    On a good day I get a 16 minute mile. I run.

    If you could let us know where these good forums (fora??) are, I’d love to join one….

  10. I’ve been lucky in my community never to get any flack when out walking/running or at the gym: however, I have been the victim of unwanted encouragement. “Gotta walk faster than that!” Was probably the most obnoxious, as I got it when i was cooling down after an hour of fast walking in which I had covered about six miles. These comments often come from people on bikes, too, so I never get to discuss it with them. They are, I believe, usually well-intentioned, but unless they also startle thin people who are on the bike path for exercise, I don’t want them. And I’ve never them do it.

    I know I got some funny looks at a the gym, but that was partly due to my not being a shaver of legs and enjoying lifting a lot more weight than the college girls who are so afraid of “bulking up.”

    Due to asthma, a knee injury (slipped in snow stepping out of my front door), two jobs and life becoming exceedingly hectic, I’m now badly out of shape and looking forward to getting more exercise again…maybe now that I’m in my fifties I’ll be more invisible.

  11. I’ve been running for years now; it’s something that I do for myself, because my times aren’t competitive in races. And I’ve also observed both camps: the runners who are super supportive and stay to cheer every last racer, and then the ones who are, well, jerks. I would guess that there are many runners who run out of a desperate fear of being fat, and to see us out there doing what they do despite our being fat, that tears their entire world up.

    I hope you find that the supportive folks outnumber the jerks!

  12. I think the jerks-to-awesome people ratio in running is pretty much in line with that in the population at large. It’s human nature to want to feel special and human frailty that leads some of us who crave this more desperately to achieve it by denigrating others.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had a less-than-great experiences on running forums, Ragen. I’m a runner, too, and in my 16 years of running, I’ve met runners of all shapes and sizes and ages and abilities. Many of them look very different from me; some are faster and some are slower. In my opinion, what ties us together and makes us all runners — in addition to opinions on the best flavor of Gu (answer: salted caramel), “Mile 18” stories, plantar fasciitis woes, and (lady division) sports bra savvy –i s that We Love to Run. I was a runner before I became a better runner, and I’ll be a runner until I can’t any more.

  13. I think I must be the only beginner/slow/obese runner out there who HATES to be cheered at. I’m always last in my running club. Always. So I watch all the people pass by on their way back from the first half of the route and say nothing to the 10 or so people in front of me. All of a sudden I’m getting “keep it up!” and “good job!” and “you can do it!” and I’m like, wtf, man? If it is true that it’s difficult for everyone and we’re all in this together and etc., then why didn’t you cheer on everyone you passed before me? I have no idea what to say because, “yeah, you too” seems weird. So. I dunno. I guess I just want to be fast enough so people stop cheering for me. Is that when you get to be a real runner? When you’re perfectly average and no one notices you?

    1. I’m with you—I hate being singled out for encouragement, too. It feels very patronizing and demeaning to me. As I said above, I realize it’s intended to be kind, but it tends to make me want to hide under a rock, or throw one, rather than fill me with gratitude and warm fuzzies.

      1. I explained this to one of my running club buddies, and she responded by shouting “you’re terrible at this!” as she passed me during my first race. I loved the look on the faces of people around her. I laughed, and it reminded me how much I love mucking up people’s expectations. But mileage may vary.

    2. I so agree with you about this! I don’t want to be an “inspiration” to anyone else, I want to be a participant, just like everyone else running the race!

  14. I felt the ballroom dance community is always very supportive and happy to have someone showing an interest. Maybe it’s different in other areas, but I think it’s partly because it’s a dying art here. Most of the ballroom dancers around here are much older people. Hardly any young people. If they see a young person learning they are excited. But I haven’t been doing it since Dancing with the Stars started several years ago. I hope that show had a good influence on making others want to dance.

    I think people attracted to running are usually the ‘health nut’ type. And those people usually have the most anti-fat bias.

    1. We had a gym unit in grade 10 that everyone had to take, and that was dancing. I loved waltzing and foxtrot, jive is not really my thing. My friend and her husband have been taking lessons since before they got married, and properly danced for their wedding. I’d like to take it up again.

  15. Wow. Loved this. I wrote a post about being a runner today. Nothing along the same lines of yours, but similar in the fact that we want to be identified as runners and the acknowledgment that it helps to have someone unconditionally supporting us/cheering us along. I’m in awe of your training and accomplishments. Thanks for the needed inspiration. Funny how you can find it when you don’t even expect it! Run on!

  16. I saw one of my old gym teachers- who had also been at the 5k in November. She asked me about my time, and I grimaced…because my friend and I came in dead last. Figuring she was going to judge, I told her I couldn’t remember but we were the last to finish. Memories of doing the mile (and hating every minute of it) flashed in my head.

    She said to me, “Finishing is winning, my dear. Good job!” Then she tried to tell the clerk and I about the mile and how we really put forth a good effort.

    It was such a relief to be respected as an athlete.
    Unfortunately, my schedule has been such that I haven’t been able to run for a few weeks. Still I put the runner tile on my subaru owner badge because I like to run, and when I run, I am a runner!

    A few months ago, I bumped into a family friend who used to be a marathoner. We chatted about running and I was happy to get some advice.
    My grandmother tried to tell me later that I’m not *really* a runner.
    I laughed, threw on my gear and went out to do a half mile.

  17. You should look into trail/ultra running, it is a differant community. When I first started signing up for road races I was an “Athena” runner (a nice way of people calling me a heavy runner). I got the looks and the feeling I wasnt a real runner. Then I discovered trail running, it is a pretty darn amazing community. I never felt looked down upon. I just finished my first 50k and I love running! It helps to be running trails were people don’t care what I look like but respect me for my hard work and tenacity.

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