When I think of runners, I don’t think of myself. I think of the elite athletes I see at races sporting just their sports bras and spandex shorts, muscles galore. These women run a marathon in the time it takes me to run a half marathon. They have sponsors and trainers. They have people cheering for them! I don’t have that. I’ve been running for five years, but I’m 5’2″ and weigh 155 lbs. I wear a size 10. “Elite Athlete” is not in my genes.

It all started in 2005 when a friend asked me to join a 5K with her. The feeling I had at that first race – the energy of the other runners, the rush of crossing the finish line, and the knowledge that I hadn’t walked any of those 3.1 miles – was enough to hook me on running for the past five years.

In the beginning I was only running about 15 miles a week, while signing up for at least one 5K or 10K every month. But when people asked me if I was a runner, I’d say, “No. I’m more of a jogger, really. I’m not a very fast runner.”

Recently though, I’ve been wondering: What exactly makes one a runner?

I mean, aside from the awesome body, I’ve got pretty much all it takes to be a runner. I’m a devout user of body glide, which I learned to use after an awful case of sports bra chafing that led to cuts all the way around my rib cage and prevented me from wearing a real bra for more than a week while the scabs healed. I’ve got the always flattering spandex capris, of which I own more pairs than jeans. I wear the ever-so-cool water fanny pack. I suck down those awful carbohydrate gels for long runs. I own more sports bras than any person should probably admit to owning. I subscribe to Runner’s World. I even read books about running.

And it’s not just the gear. Like the hypochondriac I am, I self-diagnose with any number of running disorders from shin splints to plantar fasciitis. I know what plantar fasciitis is. I regulate my pace depending on the number of miles I’m running. I talk about pace. I go to seminars about running. I worry about the amount of water I drink in a day for fear of getting leg cramps after a long run (and limit my alcohol intake, which, admittedly, was a bit out of control before I started running). I eagerly seek out the advice of other runners, with whom I could talk about pace and shoe fit for hours.

Then there’s the actual running, which has gotten into absurd numbers of miles since I started training for my first marathon in May (500 miles in 4 months!). I mean, really, who goes home early on a Friday night because they have to get up at 6 a.m. on Saturday to run 20 miles? Not normal people!

So why do I still, after more than five years of running, feel like I’m not a real runner? According to Claire Kowalchik, author of The Complete Book of Running for Women, this is a common problem among women, who are more likely to downplay their roles as runners, whether because of body image, speed, lack of experience, or fear of what other people think. But Kowalchik asserts that if you run then you are a runner. The key is to tell yourself that you’re a runner and see yourself as one. She goes on to say that one’s running will improve greatly with the belief that they are a runner – encouraging one to increase speed and performance to become an even better runner. In her book, she quotes Tim Gallwey, “I know of no single factor that more greatly affects our ability to perform than the image we have of ourselves.”

With that said, my name is Rebecca Adler and I am a runner.


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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

37 responses to “Runners Anonymous”

  1. Layla says:

    Yes, Becca, you are a runner. It’s not the times or the paces or the race numbers — it’s the fact that you go out there and do it.

  2. Gregory Messina says:

    You are totally a runner. Out of curiosity, I’d be fascinated to listen in on a conversation about pace.

    • It’s not as fascinating as one might think. We discuss our paces at different mileage, how to slow your pace at the beginning of a race so as not to burn out before the finish line, how to train for pace, etc. It’s how I judge whether I can run with someone or not though. If they’re too much faster (or slower) than me I don’t even bother. It’s discouraging for the slower runner when they get left in the dust (trust me, I know, I’ve been left behind many a time).

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Jude says:

    I loved running when I did it – for all of about a year! It was the most wonderful feeling to know that your feet could take you anywhere. However many years later I developed compartment syndrome ( and I’m sure you know what that is…). I attribute this to not wearing the right running shoes. Damn! Now I find it difficult to walk 15 minutes pain-free.

    • I didn’t know what it was, but google did! I’m sorry to hear that you had to give up running (and for such a painful reason!). Running shoes are definitely the most important thing a runner can invest in. I had a pair that I swear caused me shin splints a few years back (and kept me from running for 4 months while those damn shins healed). I’m now a believer in getting new shoes at the first signs of pain. It’s too bad it takes an injury for us to realize something like that 🙁

      Thanks for the comment, and for giving me some new knowledge.

  4. You are definitely a runner! Run, runner, run!

    About five years ago, I too was lured into performing a sudden 5K, but unlike you, it didn’t stick. I did the run, decided since it didn’t actually kill me this was a sign to run, always,starting now and lasting forever. Ran once more. Never ran again.

    I went to the store from which running shoes come, stared at the ugly little white and grey and silver and navy clodhoppers on the shelves…picked one up and turned it around in my hand…put it back…yes, yes indeed it *was* as ugly up close as it was far away. Looked at the price stickers…imagined the number of objects I either really sincerely needed, or really sincerely wanted, that I could spend that amount of money on, if I really wanted to spend it.

    For want of the will to buy a pair of shoes that would save me, while running, from the carious ailments you’ve noted above, I never became a runner. So, even if you tally up the frequency that you step out and take a run, the topics you’ve read up on, the fact that you even KNOW how long it takes you to run a half-marathon (which strongly suggests you’ve run one)…even if all of that doesn’t make you feel like a runner…the fact that you mustered up the will to purchase a pair of sneakers that aren’t on your feet because they look cute?

    Totally a runner. Excellent!

    • Amanda, I love you! And, yes, yes, they are an ugly sight, running shoes. I hated my first trip to the running shoe shop because I wanted at least semi-cute running shoes, but the ones that actually fit my feet and wouldn’t cause me a million injuries were hideous. I broke them in though and got used to them. My last pair were the absolute worst. They were some sort of neon purplish-blue and made me feel like I was on display every time I ran, even after they were broken in and covered in dust. I really think it’s the fact that I can wear the spandex pants though that proves I’m a runner. Seriously, those things are the LEAST flattering thing on the planet.

  5. Dana says:

    You’re definitely a runner Rebecca. I used to be one – but was always hesitant to call myself one. Then I started to feel the effects of pounding the pavement on already damaged knees and started doing yoga.

    A friend talked me into a 5 k earlier this year and I was embarrassingly slow and sore afterward. (Haven’t run any distance in 4 years and did no training. Brilliant!) But I do miss it. I miss the clarity, the endorphins and the sense of accomplishment. I’m ordering some new shoes today.

    • Yay for new shoes!

      I’ve been talking about starting yoga for months. I think it would add a good stretch to my workout routine (I’m woefully bad about stretching before/after workouts). Maybe I’ll finally go out and do it this week…

  6. Simone says:

    Great piece. Loved your affirmation, if you aren’t a runner then what are you? A writer who jogs occasionally… rubbish! Embrace the runner attitude!

    I started running around this time last year. I had a 10km race and 6 weeks to prepare as motivation for my first run! It was so exciting that I carried on running, until March of this year. A friend of mine signed us up for a 15km race, which went well.

    But about 3 hours after the race I started getting a pain in the outer metatarsal on my right foot. Turns out I got a stress fracture and was off running for 6 weeks or more. Then winter and laziness set in. It’s spring now and I’ve been running twice a week now, but need to do some more to get my fitness levels up.

    I’m a runner. I’m glad you are too!

    • Ack! A stress fracture is my worst fear! I’d just die if I had to give up running for another long stint (had to go off it for four months a few years back due to injury). Ease into it (which it sounds like you’re doing) and you should be fine! Glad you’re back to it!

      P.S. I love that the seasons are backwards on the other side of the world. It makes my head go all mushy for a second and then I remember not everyone is here in North America and it makes me smile.

  7. Rainer Maria says:

    Runner’s high
    reeling them in
    pickin them up ..puttin them down
    caked salt on running shorts
    kick
    second wind
    after a shower you body is still a heater

  8. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    pace talk, running clinics, GU — all that is great, but have you worn the Strassburg Sock at night, when your really hot lover stayed over and you pretended it didn’t look dorky but kind of sexy, and in the morning you got up and tested your foot and it felt better, and only after you had your first cup of coffee you remembered your really hot lover was still upstairs in bed? Then, and only then, are you a runner 🙂

    • Stefan: Damn! I’m only SO close. I have left my really hot lover several times on a Saturday at 6 a.m. for a long run and spent the entire run praying he’d still be in my bed when I got back. That’s one way to increase your pace! But no, I have yet to graduate to the Strassburg Sock.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    You are a full-on runner. No doubt about it. You have the passion, you put the time in, and you educate yourself on all the fun and fancy accoutrements that enhance your running experience. I love when you post your mileage on FB. It’s good knowing you’re out there, pounding out your miles, and enjoying the runner’s high, whether you get it during or after the run.

    I had run a string of marathons all over the world before running into a series of injuries and maladies that saw me completely give up running. Finally I had enough and I got back into it- slowly, for sure, but I started running again not for speed or time, but just for the enjoyment of running. What I found was that once you’re a runner, you’re always a runner. It doesn’t take long to get back to where you were, and you find that the mindset of a runner, which you clearly have, is just as important as the body that carries it.

    Rock on, sister. If you ever get down this way, let’s find a race!

    • OMG I totally want to do a race with you! AND I’m so glad you don’t find it completely annoying that my iPod posts my mileage every time I run. I let it keep doing it because I figure if people don’t see my mileage for a few days then they’ll start pestering me about why I’m not running and I’ll NEVER be able to say that I’m just feeling lazy.

      I’m glad you’re back to running. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of running injury stories in years to come. But I don’t think I could ever give up running at this point. I become far too cranky after a couple days without pounding the pavement.

      By the by, have you tried out the new trend of barefoot running? It’s supposed to help keep you injury free. I’m still on the fence about it though.

  10. Mary Richert says:

    Wow, I totally admire your dedication. I am definitely not a runner. I tried. I didn’t get very far. I get bored. I like my bike right now though. Maybe I am just not very fitness motivated…

    • I used to get bored running too. The key is to actually run outdoors rather than on a treadmill or a track. The change of scenery and the people watching keep my mind occupied enough that I don’t get bored. That and the iPod, which I’m convince is the greatest invention of all time.

      I get bored swimming laps though. I can never do very many, not because I don’t have the muscles, but because I’d rather drown than be that bored.

  11. jmblaine says:

    I used to be a runner
    then a trainer said one simple sentence
    years ago that changed all that:
    “Think of the physiques of
    runners vs. sprinters.”

    So am I sprinter now?
    Well, sometimes.
    Wind shorts.

    By the way, you have tons
    of photos
    all of them cute & flattering
    How do you pull that off?

    • Heh. I have friends who are really great behind the camera.

      Also, I’m very photogenic. I often tell people that I look WAY better in pictures than I do in real life. It’s a trick of the lens, I think.

  12. angela says:

    you sound like a runner to me! i haven’t run a marathon and am lucky if i put in 9 or 10 miles in a week, and i still call myself a runner.

    i think you become a runner when running becomes a part of your life, something that’s always there, whether you’re actually running or thinking, “i should have run today!”

    kind of like writing!

    • Oh God, don’t remind me about the “I should have written today.” I’ve been saying that for the past nine months. At least I finally got around to it, yes? 😉

      Thanks so much for commenting! And, you’re right, I think once you’ve made running a part of your life, you’re a runner. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out.

  13. Matt says:

    You are far more of a runner than I. I can’t stand to do it. Ride my bike for 40 miles? Sure. Six hours of martial arts training? Not a problem! But I’ve never been able to get into running, and believe you me, I’ve tried.

    Good for you, though, for keeping at it.

    • Eh, running’s not for everybody. Although it is the one sport that ANYONE can do and requires no equipment. I’ll tell you though, this marathon training has almost beaten my love of running right out of me. The chafing alone is enough to do someone in. I cannot wait to be back down to five or six miles at a time and feeling like I’ve accomplished something. I’m only keeping up with it because everyone already knows I’m doing it.

  14. Don Mitchell says:

    Great piece, and you raise questions that every runner asks. So you’re a runner.

    I never thought that running was all about speed. I think if you run and race, and when it’s time to run hard, you run as hard as you can — you’re a runner. Doesn’t matter whether it’s slow or not (well, sure . . . running more slowly that you’d like is a genuine issue) so long as you pushed to the limit of what you brought to the race (or the long run, or the tempo run, or the track workout).

    That’s all I have time for now (borrowed computer, etc.). If this thread’s still active in a couple of days, when I have easy internet access, I’d like to weigh in again.

    BTW, yes on Body Glide. It really works. Plus, it raises fewer questions (mostly the unasked variety) than multiple jars and tubes of Vaseline all over the house, in the car, etc. do.

    Now I’m heading out on a steep hike at a decent altitude (5500) with some rock-scrambling. My host and leader is a back-country Nat’l Park ranger. I know he’s going to have to hold back to let me stay with him in his woods and on his monster high rock formation (I think it’s called Cathedral Rock, in Custer SD) from which I’m probably going to fall and die.

  15. Greg Olear says:

    I had no idea you were a runner. But you clearly are. I don’t think I could run a 5k if my life depended on it.

  16. I love this! I have similar feelings – because I don’t have the body of a runner or even the gear – body glide? Must have!

    But I ran three 5K races last year and started to feel like maybe I could call myself a jogger. I like the solidarity of jogging/running, but also the sisterhood (or siblinghood) thing you can get from doing races. And recently, I started up again -I’ve been doing the Couch to 5K program on my Iphone (except, oh no I just realized my phone is broken and I can’t see the screen – what am I to do??).

    One thing I know for sure – nothing makes me feel as accomplished or good – (except when I sprained my ankle once).

    Yay for running and runners – you are definitely a runner!

    • Yes, Body Glide is one of those great inventions that once you’ve heard of it you cannot do without!

      I love that race feeling too. I still get antsy every time I run a race and I always perform better at a race than on my own. Maybe from peer pressure? Nah, I think it’s from the energy. Also, isn’t it fab to see yourself improving? I love when I shave off a couple of seconds (or even minutes, if I’m lucky!) from my last race time.

      And, if my iPod running tracker broke I don’t know if I’d ever be able to run again. I’d have to splurge and spend my entire paycheck buying a new iPod. Get that screen fixed stat! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  17. Simon Smithson says:

    Ha. It’s kind of like the question of when you get to call yourself a writer, isn’t it?

    I’d call you a runner. I’ve just finished (again!) the Couch to 5K, so I call myself a runner, too. And it’s strange to think about how you can suddenly see yourself in a new light when you start to define yourself. I’m a runner, a swimmer, and a weightlifter right now.

    Damn.

    I’m an athlete, man.

  18. kristen says:

    Runner all the way!

    Say, you mentioned Runner’s World–do you also subscribe to their e-newsletters? Ever checked out Kristin Armstrong’s RW blog? She’s done some lovely writing on the psychology around bein’ a runner…

  19. David says:

    After telling a co-worker on a business trip that I had gotten up early to run five miles, he asked, “How do you do it? Seriously, how do you run five miles?” After some thought, I replied, “You go outside, start running, and don’t stop until you have gone five miles.”

    Anyone that just gets out there and does it on a regular basis has officially earned the title of runner.

  20. Marni Grossman says:

    Yeah y’are, Becca! You shame me. I probably haven’t walked 20 miles in the past month.

  21. David, that’s what I love about running: There’s no extra gear required! Having spent all of my adult life being poor, it’s great to be involved in a sport that costs pretty much nothing. No fancy gym membership and no equipment needed (especially if you’re one of those crazy barefooted runners!).

    I really love your explanation. It’s so simple and so true. Anybody can do it, they just have to work at it.

    Also, I love that you’re as crazy as me for getting up early on a trip to go for a run.

    Thanks for the comment!

  22. true life producer says:

    Hello Rebecca

    I’m not trying to intrude or overstep – just trying to shed light on exercise addiction. I’m writing from MTV’s true life and we’re doing an episode on exercise addiction and I wanted to see if I could speak to you further to see if you’ve been subject to this or know anyone who is an exercise addict that may be interested in speaking with me.
    It’s not locking you into anything by speaking with me, but I just have a few questions.

    thanks.

    [email protected]

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