Am I A “Real” Runner If I Don’t Run Races?

Rate this Article:
Am I A Am I A “Real” Runner If I Don’t Run Races?

I ran competitively throughout middle school, high school and college.  Then I ran sporadically during my 20s and 30s and ran regularly during my 40s and very early 50s until sidelined with a knee injury. I have run numerous track and cross country races, 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers, half marathons, trail runs and a mud run. I have never run a marathon. I currently only run 5 miles a week as I recover. I still consider myself a “real” runner.

According to Tobias Mews, “real” runner and marathoner, writing in the The Telegraph, you aren’t a proper runner until you have run the rite-of-passage New York City Marathon. As mentioned above, I have never run a marathon so obviously, I’m not a marathoner but according to Mews, I’m not a real runner either.

Writer Joe Dudman lists the reasons he is not a “real” runner on Run Oregon blog. Anyone who writes a blog on running and owns more than 500 race t-shirts sounds like a “real” runner to me. Dudman claims he is not a “real” runner because among other reasons:

  • Real runners run for relaxation, fitness or simply the love of running itself.
  • Real runners are obsessed with training plans and the latest physiological science.
  • Real runners are very concerned with dietary matters.
  • Real runners run marathons.
  • Real runners get out there almost every day, rain or shine, and often run through injury, feeling that there’s a void in their lives if they miss a single training session.
  • Real runners know Bill Rodgers’ mile splits from the 1980 Boston Marathon, and what Kara Goucher had for breakfast on July 12th, 2010.

Of course, this is all very tongue-in-cheek but there is that mention of a marathon again.

The Benefits of Racing at Least Occasionally

Many runners and even those who are just starting to run, register for a race and write it on their calendars. It is a great motivational tool. How confident would you feel on the starting line of a race with no training under your belt? Scheduling a race and following a training plan to prepare for it are positive ways to maintain the momentum of regular exercise.

Racing offers the opportunity to participate in something on a small or large scale with like-minded individuals to achieve a common goal. It can be very motivating and uplifting to run a race with fellow training partners and even strangers. Race day camaraderie is a special, but temporary, bond.

Racing also offers the chance to gauge improvement and celebrate your accomplishments. Maybe you have participated in the Couch to 5K Program and this is your first race. That is something to be celebrated. Maybe this is your second half marathon and it was faster than the first. Now you can see that your training regimen and those miles you have logged paid off.

Not Racing Has Its Benefits Too

Not everyone is competitive though. Maybe you run as a stress reliever, a way to relax or just to maintain a certain level of fitness. Running doesn’t always bring out the fierce competitor or even the mild competitor in everyone.

Focusing on competition and what it can entail—training plans, speed, times, etc.—can make the pleasurable experience of running not as much fun for some. Those who enjoy being in their own heads during their runs might find the preparation for the race and the race itself more of a chore than their leisurely runs are.

A busy racing schedule also can lead to over-training and injury. Some runners don’t want to deal with the potential for injury and the requisite time off for recovery. Frequent racing also contributes to additional wear and tear on the body and can make you more susceptible to over-use injuries and illness.

For others, the cost of entry fees and travel to and from races can put a strain on their budgets. Some who pass on races question why they should pay to do something that they can do on their own or with a group of training partners for free.

Room for Everyone, “Real” Runner or Not

I am the coach of a high school track program, that depending on the season, can have anywhere between 50 and 110 athletes. I see this team as a microcosm of the running community at-large. Some have never run before, some have never even played a sport before. Some will never be track stars, some will never even have the chance to compete in a meet. Some will qualify for the state meet, go on to be state champions and maybe even compete in college. Some are incredibly fast and some are terribly slow. But there is a place for everyone on this team and as long as they are making an effort and improving, even if it is only against themselves, it is a beneficial endeavor.

The broader running community is very much like this. And team members who aren’t accepting of everyone on the team are missing the bigger picture.

So, How’d I Do?

Am I a real runner or not? By Tobias Mews’ standard, the answer is no, since I have never run a marathon. If I go by Dudman’s standards, I am somewhere in the middle. I run for fitness and am concerned about dietary matters. I also am interested in training plans and physiological science but that is because I am a coach and required to. I don’t run every day and I don’t know Bill Rodgers’ 1980 Marathon splits but somewhere in a scrapbook, I have his autograph. I’m still planning to consider myself a real runner because I feel like I am and to me, that’s all that matters.