Out There: There Is No ‘Should’ In Running

Not all "real" runners compete in marathons. Some choose to run 5Ks or shorter. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Last weekend, my friend Jen celebrated her first half marathon finish. As she shared her memories of the day with me, I proudly pointed out how far she had come since lacing up her first pair of running shoes only one year ago.

“I guess I have to do a marathon next.”

“You don’t sound too excited about that.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, “I’d rather go back to 5Ks.”

“So go back to 5Ks, then.”

My statement was met with a sheepish shrug. “But I should do a marathon … right?”

“Should” is a dangerous word. Especially when that word is followed by “marathon.” There seems to be an assumption that all runners must follow some sort of trajectory—first a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon, then a full, then qualifying for Boston, then …

Sometimes, this assumption is a naïve one—like a coworker who thinks all races are marathons—but more often than not, our fellow runners are driving this belief. At the finish line, a hearty congratulations is usually followed by “What’s next?”

“Should I do a marathon?” is one of the questions I get asked the most by runners. More often than not, a quick conversation reveals their real question: “Do I have to do a marathon?” My answer is always the same: You don’t have to do anything. Do you want to run a marathon?

RELATED: No Excuses Before An Attempt

Not everyone wants to follow the trajectory of “shoulds,” and that’s cool. But for some reason, runners are made to feel like sticking with a shorter distance is somehow settling; as if declaring “I run 10Ks” or “I love racing the mile” is akin to saying “I’m OK with mediocrity.” As a running buddy once lamented, “Apparently, I’m not a real runner until I do a marathon.”

That same buddy is the one who invited me do my first mile race—his favorite distance—a couple of weeks ago. The experience was … well, it was painful. It was brutal, it was sadistic, I could feel my heartbeat in my ears, and my lungs were angry for three full days after the race.

In short, it was as real as it gets.

Milers are real runners. Those who unleash the beast in 5Ks, ultramarathons, and everything in between are also real runners. Those who run without any race in mind—they’re real runners, too. That a checklist of “shoulds” exists for any runner to earn her title is preposterous.

Run what you love. Run what you are. If you’re that guy who trickles measured drops of badassery over 26.2 miles, groovy. If you’re the gal who unleashes a torrent of awesome over 5K, rock on. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Because if it makes you feel like a runner, that’s exactly what you should be doing.

RELATED: The Knead To Run

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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

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