Have you ever heard the term a real runner? I have heard it many times at races and in conversations, and although I always hope I’m considered a real runner, the expression irritates me a little because it carries with it some misplaced judgment. Let me tell you a few of the times I have heard this expression, and why it bothered me at the time.

I was running the Rock n Roll New Orleans Marathon and I had reached the turn-off point where if I went straight I would go into the chute for the half and be done. You could hear the party going on at the finish. I was so tempted to go straight and finish because the roads were still a mess from hurricane Katrina, and it had done a number on my legs. My stomach was cramping and I was discouraged that I felt this bad at mile 13, but Rocky was playing, and how can you not step up to a challenge when that song is pushing you on? As I turned the corner, there was a lone volunteer who said to me, “Now the real runners are coming.” I thought, “If he only knew how much I’m struggling right now he might not say that!” I thought about that statement during the next few miles. All of the runners who trained for the half were as much real runners as I was. I don’t think how many miles you do determines how serious you are about running.

I approached the registration table at a 5k/10K race, and the volunteer said to me, “You’re doing the 10K, right?” I said yes and she added, “I could tell you were a real runner.” Once again the distance seems to be the deciding factor, but some runners are better with shorter distances and speed while some like distance and a slower pace. Both groups are still real runners.

At my first ultramarathon, I didn’t think I was a good enough runner to be there. It didn’t help that many of the runners looked like they ate nails for breakfast, and they were talking about races they had done and even the race names scared me. I soon learned though that there were all types of runners and running abilities at the race. It is now my favorite distance to run, but for years I was afraid to try it. Imagine what I would have missed out on if I had let my fear that I wasn’t a real runner hold me back.

When I tore my meniscus in July I still wanted to participate in 5k races with my friends. I wasn’t able to run at all at that point, and I was happy just to be there. As we walked along, one of the police officers yelled, “Don’t worry, I’d be in the back too if I was out here!” I laughed because I don’t think he had any idea that he wasn’t exactly encouraging us. He also didn’t know any of the stories that were in all the people in the back, and whether you walked the course or ran it, you still did 3 miles more than most people did.

How fast or slow does not determine if you are a real runner. My friend Raleigh has had 2 strokes, a heart operation, and a plethora of other issues. He never complains and anytime he has a health issue he soldiers through it and says it is only temporary. That attitude alone tells me he is a real runner. He has slowed down a bit in the last few years, but he always shows up ready to do his best.

I recently met Tera, a woman who had seriously hurt her shoulder when she fell while hiking. Many people would stop exercising while healing, but Tera took up running. When I met her she said her goal was to do a 5K without walking. Tera is still a real runner even if she walks. Walking now and then can help you run farther, so I’m not sure why so many runners think walking is a sin. Tera is a beast who has grit whether she is walking or not.

Real runners do crazy things sometimes. Raleigh and I asked our friend Sally if she would do a 9-mile race with us. She immediately said yes which would not have been odd except that Sally had not run more than three miles once a week here and there. She did an amazing job, and one of her favorite pictures is when we ran back out, found her, and ran her in. Sally is a real runner.

So, if you are wondering if you qualify as a real runner, I will tell you that if you run, no matter how far or how long, you are a member of the running community because running offers something for everyone and can be tailored to fit your needs. Hold your head high because you are a real runner.

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