There has been a little controversy on Twitter this afternoon, which I suppose is not news really; controversy happens most days as people jump to the wrong conclusions and hide behind keyboards, happily ranting. Runners World UK published a web article called “25 Real Runners to Follow on Instagram”, which prompted a (quite frankly, very negative) debate about what qualifies you as a real runner? Indeed, this issue comes up a lot in my line of work, as clients describe themselves as “plodders” or “joggers”. It seems that simmering underneath our running community’s layer of harmony lies some snobbery and misunderstanding.

So what exactly IS a Real Runner?

Is a real runner fast? We’ve all experienced the speed snobbery: take parkrun as an example (and before anyone moans, I LOVE parkrun, but just hear me out) . Has anybody run a parkrun with more than one lap, and heard the marshalls shouting “Move aside, here come the fast runners” as front runners come hurtling past. That one innocuous little word – fast – really makes me feel like shite whenever I get lapped, especially when I am giving it my all, but that’s just my sensitive nature coming into play. Actually, who gives a shit how fast you are? Unless you’re competing for a medal for Team GB, or a World Record, does it actually matter? People are obsessed with speed these days. The first time I ran a marathon, the one question I got asked over and over was “How long did it take you?” Why does it matter? And then there’s our obsession with Strava (I had a little rant about this in my last blog post) which displays our run stats for everyone to pore over and analyse. I love Strava, it’s a fantastic community, but the temptation to get obsessed with speed is dangerous. It shouldn’t matter. Why does faster have to equal better? We run. Therefore we are real runners. Speed is irrelevant.

What about endurance? Surely if you run marathons, you’re a real runner? Well, I’ve walked during every one of my marathons, and the running snobs tell me that this means I haven’t technically run them. So I guess I can’t call myself a real runner then. Damn. But what about an ultra marathon? Ah, I walk on those too, so they don’t count either. So what if you’ve not progressed to marathons yet, or don’t plan to ever to, can you call yourself a runner? What if you follow a run/walk programme? I can’t believe you’re even considering the answer to this question. We run. Therefore we are real runners. Distance is irrelevant.

What about club runners? Surely if you don’t represent a club, you’re not a real runner. Do you know something, I used to believe that crap too. I believed that crap so hard with all my heart that when I first started to enjoy running, and wanted to improve, I was too scared to join a running club in case they laughed at me. (I know, it sounds ridiculous writing it down.) So I started my own club, together with my husband and two of our friends for moral support, and we got our own qualifications so we knew what we were doing, and we made our own little club of pretend real runners until we’d forgotten that we ever believed we weren’t real runners and being in a club was just what people who loved running did for fun. We put too many feelings in the way sometimes. Had I joined a “real” club back then, I would probably have been made to feel really welcome and enjoyed it. I’m glad I didn’t, because following my own path lead me to this career as a running coach, so I don’t regret it, but don’t ever let your own made-up feelings about something make you doubt that you are a real runner. We run. Therefore we are real runners. Belonging to a club is irrelevant.

What about how often you run? As a coach, I often hear people apologising to me for ‘only’ running once a week. This is turn can also lead to those of us who run more regularly feeling a little awkward and embarrassed. I mean, I run to the point of obsession – I usually like to run 5 or 6 times a week, sometimes 7 or 8 if I can fit it in and get away with it from the husband’s point of view. And I don’t like to mention it if I know someone doesn’t run as much as I do. But it got me thinking, why should any of us apologise for how little, or how much, we run? We run. Therefore we are real runners. Frequency is irrelevant.

The one question you need to ask yourself is: Do you run? Yes? Then you’re a real runner.

I do think Runners Worlds’ choice of the word ‘real’ was unfortunate in the article that prompted this blog post, but I genuinely don’t think they meant to offend anyone or divide the running community. The subtitle of this piece is “When inspirational quotes won’t cut it, check out these fantastic running accounts”. So many commercial accounts post such generic and contradictory rubbish nowadays, that this article is actually a celebration of some runners who post real-life stuff on their accounts, and it’s lovely to be recognised as such. If you’ve read any of my recent blog posts, you’ll know you certainly get a ‘real’ and authentic account of my running.

Thanks for reading.

Here’s the article I referenced

8 thoughts on “What is a real runner?

  1. I took it to mean “real people with real jobs etc who also run” rather than professional athletes but agree it was a bad choice of title. I sometimes worry that I look like “all the gear but no idea” as I pootle along doing 9-10 min kms but most of the time I don’t care. I run…ok walk too, when and where and as far as I want. I’m happy to be last in a race if it happens (and it has) and thrilled to be “not last”. I’m approaching 60, just happy to be out there running and hoping to be able to keep running for another 10 years or more. I might even get a GFA marathon time if I keep going into my 90s!

  2. I took it to mean down-to earth runners rather than professional athletes or full-time bloggers (for whom telling people about their achievements is more important than actually enjoying them).

    We are all runners; whether you do a steady mile a week or bash out a hundred. Having spent years chasing PB’s and obsessing about training plans, I’ve latterly settled for simply doing events that excite me (and sometimes frighten me). I couldn’t care if anyone is impressed or thinks I’m mad. However if I inspire one other person to try a run or take on a challenge, I’m happy… Which is precisely what you’re doing Michelle! Pay no attention to the critics….

    1. Yes, I am pretty sure that’s exactly what RW meant by it. I took the same approach as you did to running this year, and it’s turned out to be my best year of running ever. Keep enjoying!

  3. I agree 100% with you. If you enjoy going out for a run your a runner no matter what people say. I get a little obsessed along the way and entered races and progressed through the ranks of half marathons to now marathon stage. Which takes me to training for my third attempt at the Manchester marathon. I’m just a runner enjoying…running.

  4. great read. I was always worried that people thought, but now, ive been “running” for 4 years now, and still have the bug!

    PS – great blogs!

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