Pilk’s Points: What Makes A ‘Good’ Runner?

How willing are you to do what it takes to become a better runner? Photo: www.shutterstock.com

The idea that “fast” is synonymous with “good” is an idea that holds less water than a paper cup at an aid station. 

My first “Pilk’s Points” entry addressed the myths of “real” runners and what constitutes such a person — my friends got a good laugh and plenty of positive reinforcement from it. But as I continue to interact with runners of various backgrounds, goals and personalities, I realized the consistent concern was less about being considered a “real” runner and more about being viewed as a “good” runner.

“How do you run so fast? I want to be a good runner like you.”

“I’m not a good runner—I can’t keep up with your group.”

“I just run for fun—I’m not good at it.”

First, thank you for the compliments. I know plenty of athletes who work a million times harder than I do — they are the “good” runners, regardless of speed or race smarts.

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Second, these types of statements got so tired that I decided to actually evaluate, for myself, what defines a good runner — falling short of any concrete, one-size-fits-all answers. Why? Because for many newbies and veterans alike, “fast” is synonymous with “good,” an idea that holds less water than a paper cup at an aid station. Raise your hand if you know even one runner that has run a game-changing PR on zero training or a runner who runs once in awhile but crushes the competition on race day. Do you know any runners who break tape as often as they might skimp on sleep and training throughout the season? I sure don’t.

So I believe the synonym you’re looking for is “willing,” as in willing to prepare.

Running doesn’t discriminate if you’re not quick enough or lack agility. There aren’t rosters determining who makes the team based on ability. And, if you choose to fly solo, you don’t even need a coach (although I highly recommend at least light mentoring from another seasoned runner). The only judge of “good” is yourself and your own goal: Is it a PR in your next half marathon? What about a BQ performance at your next 26.2-mile race? Do you want to lose 20 pounds? Is your friend encouraging you to sign up for your first 5K? That’s the beautiful thing about our sport — it’s just running, and all you really need is a good pair of shoes and the willingness to improve.

Like many creative minds, “good” runners are willing to create the perfect run and a will and desire that moves past simply getting out the door every day. We may adjust sleep schedules, monitor our diets, set alarms earlier, map out long runs, evaluate the good, bad and ugly of each workout, encourage our friends to break a sweat with us, and even follow popular running sites and blogs for added inspiration. It doesn’t matter on what level of seriousness you engage in any, all or none of these things — but it does matter if you’re willing to. If you are willing to make sacrifices, miss social engagements, prioritize your goals, remain focused on those goals and take the criticism along with the compliments, I would say you’re not only a “good” runner, you’re also a phenomenal runner. (I didn’t need to look at your watch to know that.)

This is not to say that the elites we all drool over are not “good” runners — quite the opposite. A great quote from Juma Ikangaa, three-time runner-up at the Boston Marathon, says it best: “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” Not one of the speedsters toeing the line in Boston this year is going in without a demanding training plan backing their stride. Why? Because they were willing to prepare and make those sacrifices, big and small, no holds barred, over and over again. I know sweetheart Shalane Flanagan, fourth-place finisher at last year’s Boston Marathon, isn’t skimping on her training in the quest to win this year’s 26.2-mile contest (which would make her the first American woman to break the tape on Boylston Street since 1985). As she says so elegantly, “I’m all in, with all my heart.” Fast is merely a symptom of the willingness of the runner.

So where does that leave us, the everyday, age-group Janes and Joes that dream of being deemed a “good” runner by bib-donning peers? It’s up to us to figure it out. It doesn’t matter what we create, as long as it’s phenomenal in our own eyes.

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