I’ve heard this phrase a lot recently and it worries me if I am quite honest. It worries me because running is supposed to be inclusive, yet there are a lot of people under the misconception that they’re not real runners, because a small minority of people are telling them that they’re not fast enough or that run/walking isn’t proper running. With parkrun booming and mass participation in races growing, our society is moving away from the traditional view of a runner as a very fast club member. Although club running is still important, and should still be celebrated and receive funding to grow those talented enough to want to put lots of hard work into competing, this shouldn’t prevent anyone else from getting involved in an activity that really is for everyone. We should celebrate all kinds of runners.

I’ve often considered whether I’m a ‘real’ runner or not, particularly as I was starting out, and especially when that elitist attitude towards ‘pace’ rears its ugly head, so I thought I’d write down my thoughts as they fell out of my brain this morning.

I’m not a real runner.

I’m not fast enough. I shuffle around and collect generic medals but I’ve never won a race. I’ve come first lady at parkrun a couple of times, but they were both on a rainy day when it was quiet. I was genuinely really chuffed, as I usually am when I get 1st in my age category, but I know parkrun is a run, NOT a race, so that definitely doesn’t count. I’ve come nearly last in a few events too so it all averages out. Sometimes I do events just for food, where they don’t even give you a medal, just a pie, or a cake, or a pat on the back, or a printed certificate. A couple of times I’ve even bought my own race memento, like my Belvoir Challenge mug, or my Hebden patches.

I’m not a real runner.

I sometimes look enviously at the paces other people post on Strava and wish I was a more natural runner. I mean, I’m tall, and look like I have quite an athletic figure, and should be better at running, but I can’t imagine running a half marathon at 6 minute mile pace. I can’t even run a mile that quickly. I only took up running properly in my early thirties. I wonder if I had enjoyed it as a youngster whether I’d be better at it now. Instead I once cried when school told me I had to compete in the 800 metre event on sports day in year 7. I cried so hard they didn’t make me do it. I cried on my first ever proper run in my early twenties too; it felt impossible.

I’m not a real runner.

I walk too. I’ve walked on every one of my marathons and ultras, including my marathon PB. According to some, this means I haven’t technically ever run a marathon. But I have. I walk up hills sometimes. I do run up them too but I always need a breather at the top. I stop and take lots of photos (that’s another excuse I use to stop on runs). I also take the dogs running with me so the run is more for them than me. One time, Bella did 3 (THREE) poos during a parkrun. I’ve sworn at my husband before now, when he’s been patiently trying to pace me to a PB. Anyone would think I didn’t like running. But I do. I like pushing my limits, seeing how far I can go. I’ve found the limit where I get stomach cramps and physically poo myself (that’s around 70 kilometres give or take a few), but I’ve not yet found the limit where I’ve had enough and need to stop. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough. To be fair, I did once lie down at the end of a 10k where I ran a PB. I’ve lost a couple of toenails to marathons though, so that’s pretty hardcore I suppose. On reflection, that was probably just because my shoes were too small (I wear a full size up now when running long distance).

I’m not a real runner.

When I run, I turn bright red. This used to really embarrass me at school PE lessons. I thought it was because I was unfit – it turns out I’m just very efficient at cooling myself down, which is apparently a good sign of fitness. It’s also the same reason I sweat lots. I also do this weird thing with my right arm where it swings across my body like I’m ready to punch somebody. I know I do it, but I can’t stop myself doing it. I know I don’t get my knees high enough, which means my heels kind of kick out to the side. Again it’s something I work on – driving myself forward, drills (which I don’t practice enough) but it’s hard to change your running form and make yourself look like a gazelle when you’re more of a giraffe, especially a giraffe who’s pushing 40. My race photos are usually terrible. I mean I could never wear make up on a run and look as stunning and natural as some people do, because of the sweating, bright red, affliction, but even so, I’ve usually got a gurn on my face anyway. I’m GOOD at gurning while running. That’s definitely one of my strengths.

I’m not a real runner.

I’m a member of a few clubs, but I rarely go along because it’s hard fitting running into my evening routine. I feel like I’m taking myself away from my family, which doesn’t seem fair, because it’s not like I’m a real runner or anything. It’s just something I do to keep fit and because I enjoy it. I feel that mummy guilt a LOT. But then I remember our daughter watches everything I do and that actually, going out for a run is a GOOD example to set. She asked to run a full 5k parkrun with me last month so she obviously sees running as a fun thing to do. I still get unnecessarily nervous about running with others though, that I won’t be quick enough for them, and I’ll get left behind. It’s never happened yet because I’m actually a fairly average ‘middle of the pack’ runner, and other runners are generally really nice and won’t leave somebody behind. Whenever I do make it along to one of my club track sessions, I am usually the slowest (on occasion I’ve been the only woman there at all), but I am given as much encouragement by our coach as everyone else. And when I get lapped, you can’t even tell whereabouts I am in the pack anyway, so it’s all good. And nobody actually cares.

I’m not a real runner.

But I keep running. I enjoy running. I love being part of the running community. When I hear somebody mention running, my ears prick up and I’ll immediately try to sidle into the conversation. Running makes me feel more like myself. Running produces these amazing endorphins that I can feel fizzing through my body for about an hour after I run. I am skilled at the snot rocket. I own about twenty pairs of running shoes. I spend hours reading articles and research papers about running and sports science. I design myself training plans for events that really matter to me. I enjoy the challenge of piecing together training plans for others with all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years. I LOVE coaching runners, and especially observing how they run and trying to tweak things to make them better runners. I love helping others improve, and I don’t need to feel like I am a good runner myself to do that – I simply give them the tools and the plan and help to keep them motivated. I especially like coaching beginners, because I remember the struggle well – that difficulty to get breathing right, the first time you run a mile without walking, the first time you complete a race or a parkrun.

Am I a real runner?

Running is a huge part of my life. I’ve made a career I enjoy out of it. I enjoy participating in parkrun and races. I may not be the fastest; I may not win races; I may not look like a natural runner; I may sweat lots; I may walk sometimes. But actually, on reflection, maybe I AM a real runner.

I am a REAL runner.


… a person that runs, especially in a specified way.
… a person who runs, especially for sport or pleasure.
… someone who runs, especially in competitions


I’d love to hear your thought on this. Do you ever doubt that you’re a real runner?

14 thoughts on “I’m not a real runner

  1. That was an amazing read! I can relate to lots of parts and I didn’t start running till I was 58 years old. I am now 60 and loved running, like you I am more of a giraffe but no longer care. Thank you for making me realise I am a runner too ❤️❤️

  2. Thanks for this, i have been runni g about 2 1/2 years and an rapidly (well sloath like) approaching 54. I am near the back most of the time but for someone thats lost 4 stone and spent most of my adult life over weight and unfit, i am proud to be a runner. Running has become so inclusive these days, i love the sights, the lovely people both runners and supporters. I just love running 😍😍

  3. Absolutely brilliant read can relate to most of this. I love running just do it for fun and love taking part in races don’t care where i finish still get a medal. Your an inspirational woman to other runners thank you 😀

  4. Thank you for writing this. Ive been running 14mth now i am not that good at it, i recently saw some photos of me running,ive never felt so low,i looked so fat and i did think im not going again who wants it see that making holes in the street. , your artical made me think, i need to think of myself and not worry what others think x

    1. Hi Ang, as long as you’re enjoying yourself, definitely do not give a moment’s thought to what others think. And anyway, I bet others are watching you, wishing they had the courage to take up running too. Well done for getting out there!

  5. Such a great read I can relate to so much in that article. The nerves before a race the highs afterwards and the results checking to see if you have a PB. I only started running 3 years ago aged 52 and I do enjoy it. Sometimes I’d much rather curl up with a glass of wine. I wish I could improve my posture as I feel like the Hunch Back of Norte Dam.

    1. Thanks for your comments Sue. The main thing is that you’re enjoying it. Don’t worry too much about posture, just try to feel relaxed while you’re running. I find rolling my shoulders back helps if I’m a bit hunched up.

  6. I am a runner although I only started running 30 months ago at the age of 76, parkruns are doing more to improve general fitness than any other single factor! I have now completed 107 parkruns but the best one was last Saturday when I ran withe my 4 year old grandson who was completing his 2nd parkrun.

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