There’s no reason to get caught up in semantics anymore.
My last column seemed to touch a nerve in the running community. A good nerve, that is – one that reaffirmed just how amazing and supportive runners are of each other. But amidst all the support and validation, one reader brought up an interesting question. He didn’t do it out of spite but out of sheer curiosity:
Is everyone who runs really a runner? What about those who simply jog? Do we count those as runners, too?
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. After all, I’m not really sure what the difference is between running and jogging. I’ve always called myself a runner, and never thought otherwise. Had I been naïve all this time? Is there really a difference between the two? I asked my partner, Neil, one of the best runners I know, to distinguish between the two, and he scoffed:
“Jogging? What, are we in the 80’s? Running is running.”
I was silently relieved to have my initial suspicions confirmed. But some beg to differ, stating that “real” runners deserve a distinction from joggers. One coach even goes so far as to draw a very clear line at a 40 minute 10K: If you’re faster than that time, you’re a runner; if slower, well…you’re not.
Well, then…someone get me some neon tights, legwarmers, and a boombox. I suppose I’m a jogger.
George Sheehan famously said the difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank. The dictionary defines a jog as a “steady, gentle pace,” while a run is “a brisk speed faster than a walk.” On a good day, I do the “brisk speed” thing. But some days, a steady, gentle pace is just about all I can manage. Does that mean I’ve got some sort of running bipolar disorder?
Maybe there’s something more to the equation. One of my readers said you become a jogger when something bad happens on a run and the lead story on the 5 o’clock news is on a “missing jogger.” Another reader jokes you become a runner when Lazarus Lake anoints you with cigarette ash on each shoulder (shh – it’s supposed to be a secret!).
But truly, what do runners have to gain from such marginalization?
I never would have started running had I not been exposed to great friends who inspired me. I never would have kept running had I not been able to ask those friends the most random and awkward questions about running such as “Is it normal for my toenail to be black?” or “What the hell is a fartlek?”
Most importantly, I never would have had the drive to keep going had my friends not celebrated my victories along the way. If I ran a 5K, my friends who have finished Ironman triathlons could have laughed and said, “Aww, 3.1 miles. That’s so cute.” But they didn’t. Instead, I got high fives and genuine empathy when I shared how HARD those 3.1 miles felt.
My friends never tried to one-up me and tell me I didn’t know pain until I tried to run 13.1, 26.2, or 50 miles. They didn’t compare my 10-minute miles to their own 7:30 splits. They simply celebrated my accomplishment with me. I was suddenly a part of this community of athletes, and that felt incredible. It’s because of this feeling of community that I was motivated to do more, to improve. Even now, my coach gives me, his slowest athlete with pipe dreams of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, the same amount of excitement as he gives his athlete competing in the Olympic marathon this summer. The mentors I have make me feel like I could do anything, so long as I’m willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort.
That camaraderie – that’s what it means to be a runner.
There’s no reason to get caught up in semantics anymore. Whether you lace up your shoes early in the morning or late at night; whether you work out on a trail or on the road; if you wear barely-there split shorts or a polka-dotted running skirt; whether you read Competitor magazine to get faster or to just get started; whether you do a 10K in 40 minutes or not… you’re one of us.
C’mon…let’s go running.
About The Author:
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke