What Defines You as a Runner?

I was visiting and chatting with my friend Dano yesterday and the topic of defining oneself as a runner popped up. His comment was why did speed come to be a definer, and why is longer distance seen as more special? We talked about that for a bit and of course, the topic turned more personal and I got to talking about what defined me as a runner.

The conversation was kind of bittersweet because at the time, I said that being a runner was defined by the simple act of doing. Bittersweet because my friend can’t run anymore, and this contrast made me thankful for what I can do but aware of how much I take for granted. And of course it made me reflect even more.

Red RUN sign in a puddle

There was a time when I defined myself by how fast I went (or didn’t go). I raced obsessively, knew all my competition, and never did a workout without time goals, tracking splits, and the desire to be faster. Each race, every run, was simply a building block toward something better. But a string of bad races made me shift and try something different; if I couldn’t be the fastest, I wanted to be the toughest…and that led me in a round-about way to the love of trails. So I began to see myself as defined by how long/far I could go.

After my mountain races, that definition morphed into being an endurance runner. It didn’t really matter how fast, just that I was out there completing the course, doing, as my friend Marty called it, that “all day shit.” And it’s funny; doing that stuff led me to Ironman, when I really didn’t/don’t consider myself much of a triathlete at all. I went because I was an endurance athlete and that was something endurance athletes do.

And now that I’ve done an Ironman, I’m back on the trails with my eyes on bigger, longer distances. But I’m not sure that’s about defining myself by distance so much as defining myself by the people I spend my running time with. I like these folks. I like their outlook on life, the way they treat time on their feet, the love for nature, the camaraderie on the trail. And I think that’s why it doesn’t seem to faze me that I may not finish a 100-miler...it’s not the end goal that I’m in love with, it’s the process.

So after I tackle my 100-miler, I may not “do anything” for a long time but have fun. I don’t really know where that will lead me and I don’t really care. Just so long as I’m out there, running around with friends.

And even if I could never run a step again, I would still be a runner. Because it’s in my soul.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “What Defines You as a Runner?

  1. It\’s an interesting question, and one that can\’t really be answered. It was something I specifically set out to include in the triathlete t-shirt etiquette rules I wrote back in 2001, and which is the most copied and ripped off thing I\’ve ever contributed to the Internet. The original copy can be found here: http://www.tri247.com/article_1530.html

    See rules 12 specifically. However, having finally gone through the IM thing after 10-years in triathlon, I say you can\’t define a triathlete and ipso facto or runner. Hard to one person is easy to another, while I wouldn\’t say I found my IM easy, the training was HARD, the race not so much. On the other hand, in the next 4-months I\’ll be putting in training to try to win my age group at the Rookie and maybe CapTex the training will be hard, the racing will be harder, it has to be.

    I don\’t though think it is defined by distance or time. I think you\’ve captured it when you say \”Just so long as I\’m out there, running around with friends.\” Good luck, have a great Christmas and a successful 2010!

    1. There\’s an interesting tidbit in \”Born to Run\” about a woman who ran naked a lot (p. 200).

      To me, tee shirts are pretty meaningless. I regularly give race tees to Goodwill, so I clearly don\’t attach any importance or meaning to who wears them.

      Happy holidays to you as well!

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