“Am I Really a Runner?” Yes. If You Run, You are a Runner

Running has remained one of—if not the—most accessible outdoor exercises since it became a popular sport and recreational activity around the 1960’s. (Of course, running existed before the 1960’s. However, after it stopped being necessary for the sake of survival and before it experienced its rebirth in the 20th century, people who ran were mostly considered ‘weirdos.’) With the advent of treadmills and indoor tracks, it has become just as accessible indoors. That accessibility gives millions of people the opportunity to take up running. However, many may ask, “Am I really a runner?”

Written by Lucas Collins
Edited by Pavlína Marek

Fighting for the Right to Run

“Am I really a runner if I don’t belong?”

Running and Sexism

Running has not always been an inclusive activity. When running first started to gain mainstream popularity in the 1960’s, women were often excluded from any distance events. It was a momentous occasion in 1967 when Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon. Many in the running community supported her, and Kathrine herself knew how important her finishing that race was.

Unfortunately, there were others both inside and outside the running community who thought a woman running in the race was somehow improper or diluting the sport. Even the race manager himself, Jock Semple, assaulted Switzer and tried to forcefully pull her off the course.

In her memoir, Marathon Woman, Switzer shared this terrifying experience: “Instinctively I jerked my head around quickly and looked square into the most vicious face I’d ever seen. A big man, a huge man, with bared teeth was set to pounce, and before I could react he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, ‘Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!’ Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leapt backward from him.”

Running and Racism

Thankfully, most people nowadays are way less misogynistic in their views on running and the community that surrounds it. However, there were many other marginalized groups back then. Minorities of all backgrounds were often excluded from running groups and events, even those that could be considered white, such as the Irish. 

While many of those hateful attitudes and policies have disappeared, there are still some that persist. Even today, running is still unfortunately gatekept from some people who would love to feel fully included in the running community. The killing of Black runner Ahmaud Arbery back in 2020 shows that not all runners are treated equally by the public. Many Black runners take extra precautions to keep themselves safe while out on their runs.

It’s shameful that steps like this are required to not even eliminate, but merely minimize, hateful actions from unsavory people. It’s important to remember that despite what some try to claim, everyone who has to deal with these imbalanced expectations is a runner in every right.

You are a runner and you belong in running spaces.

Who Is a Runner?

While it is never enjoyable to talk about these issues within the running community, they are important when discussing who is considered a runner. As I will say several times throughout this article: If you run, you are a runner.

Reasons people have to start running are as diverse as runners themselves; some do it as a way to get or stay fit, others do it to socialize with members of their community or to become a new member of an existing running community. Others still join with the goal of completing a certain race or event, like Berkeley. Some just want to complete a distance, such as a 10k, half-marathon, or marathon. And for every goal, every distance, every reason someone laces up their shoes, it’s important to state that they are all runners. 

You Are a Runner!

Sometimes, it feels difficult to apply that label to yourself, especially if you’re just starting out. Maybe you feel you have to complete an event before you can call yourself a runner. Or that you have to run X amount of miles every day, or achieve a certain pace before you can earn that title. I’m here to tell you that none of that is the case.

The mere act of hitting the pavement, trails, or tracks gives you permission enough to call yourself a runner. You don’t even have to differentiate yourself if you don’t want to. There’s no need to label yourself a casual, recreational, or any other type of runner.

Some who regularly run marathons or other long distances like to call themselves elite or veteran runners. People who run for a living often tell others they’re professional runners. They consider their experience worthy of mentioning because it helps them feel better. That should be the point of any label, and unless you feel a specific label helps you in some manner, you don’t need to adhere to it or heed one given to you by others. You run. Therefore you’re a runner.

A man runs at night in the rain

(Even without Professional Running Gear or Training Schedule.)

The same applies to running gear. Some feel that wearing all the latest compression clothing with the most advanced shock-absorbing shoes makes them more of a runner. To them, that’s perfectly valid. However, if you’re someone who throws on an old t-shirt and gym shorts from the back of your closet and laces up gym shoes you’ve had for years, that’s just fine too!

The methodology works the same way. There will be those who only feel like runners when they optimize their schedule, sleep, diet, and more to enhance their running. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to change their whole life for this one activity, then don’t. You’re just as much of a runner if you’re someone who simply runs a mile after work.

Take, for example, our editor. When they started out, they were running in old pajama shorts and a random soon-to-be-tossed shirt they got from a lost-and-found bin at their local climbing gym. There was no training schedule to talk about, however, there were many walk breaks in every run. That didn’t make them any less of a runner. Nowadays, they run ultramarathons and still, they’re “just a runner, like everyone else.”

“No matter how much, how far, how long, how often, or how dressed you run, you are a runner.

Everyone’s a Runner 🫶

A man doing warm-ups for running in the rain

The best part is none of this is set in stone. If you decide to invest in running gear or decide to change more things about your life to enhance your running, that’s great! If you’re someone who tried these changes and realized you prefer a more laid-back approach, that’s great, too! You’re still a runner, no matter what or how much you change about your techniques. 

Our history lesson, comparisons between running styles, or discussion of a fraction of the reasons someone would want to run or how they run, all lead back to the main point. At the end of the day, no matter what you do or how you do it, you’re a runner. You’re a runner from the moment you wake up to the time you go to bed. On the track and in the gym; at home and crossing a finish line,.. no matter the place, the time, the distance, the pace, or the reason…

You run, and you are a runner.

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