Yes, You Are a ‘Real’ Runner. Here’s Why.

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This past weekend, I received one of the most wonderful emails from a reader since I started writing this newsletter just over three years ago. I wanted to share part of it with you because it’s a story I hear over and over, and I’d bet is the case for many of us.

Here’s how it went:

“I am a mom over 50 and overweight. I don’t look like a runner, but have run eight half marathons and countless 5Ks. Because I don’t ‘look like a real runner,’ I rarely tell anyone I run…”

And here’s what I wrote in reply:

“I’m so glad to hear from you. Full confession: I don’t much look like a runner myself these days, with a 4-year-old to take care of and both my wife and I have demanding full-time jobs. But we just keep trying, don’t we?”

It reminded me of an experience I had when I went out to run a half marathon in Idaho several years ago. The race was in a small town in eastern Idaho a long way from Boise, the closest large city.

‘You don’t look much like a runner.’

There was a small table in the town center for race packet pickup, and when I went to pick up my race bib and swag, a woman behind the counter said to me then, “You’re a runner? You’re running this race? You don’t look much like a runner.”

Here’s the thing: honestly what she said didn’t bother me that much — I’d traveled probably 2,000 miles to run 13.1 miles in a tiny eastern Idaho town, if that doesn’t make me a “real” runner then I don’t know what does.

No, it was this: why does she get to decide?

For that matter, why does anyone get to decide who a “real” runner is? The images we see on the covers of magazines and in ads for fitness brands and gear reinforce the idea of who a “real” runner is or who a “real” athlete is, but so what?

If you’re out there doing your best, enjoying being athletic, then that’s all you need to be in my book. I came across a quotation recently in an interview with the founder of a fitness clothing company that reminded me of this:

“To me, the mom jogging with her stroller every morning is just as aspirational as Steph Curry or Serena Williams,” said Tyler Haney, CEO of Outdoor Voices.

“My hunch is that there are so many people who want to be more active, yet they’re intimidated. They see posters of professional athletes with Gatorade sweat and think, ‘I’ll never look like that.'”

That’s what I think we should all be going for and encouraging — not that running or athletics is reserved for those who “look” like it, but they’re for everyone.

Who gets to decide? Why not you and me?

As I write this above, I’m reminded of a century-old quote from the singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie. He was talking about music, but the thought applies here too: “I hate a song that makes you think you are not any good… that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim…

“I’m out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself.”

I hope I don’t sound hifalutin, but that’s what I’m for too: a bigger, broader idea of who a “real” runner is than the narrow view we all too often see and hear.

So to the reader who wrote in last week, who echoed a feeling that I know many of you feel too, take heart: you are a “real” runner here, and always will be.

2 comments… add one
  • Rahbin Shyne May 15, 2018, 8:07 pm

    Perfect post!!! I thought that by taking on half-marathons I’d begin to look like an athlete. I wear the same size after my 25th half-marathon as I did after my first. Until reading this post, I still would not call myself an athlete. I’m reminded of watching football games and judging which men looked like “real” athletes. They are all athletes. So am I! Thank you.

    • Terrell Johnson May 15, 2018, 10:21 pm

      Thanks, Rabhin! You definitely are. I hear you loud and clear. My feeling is much like the line from the movie “Ratatouille,” when Gusteau tells Remy that “anyone can cook.” I firmly believe that “anyone can run.” Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’re a runner. Don’t let the naysayers get you down! Keep in touch 🙂

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