You can run without being a “runner.” I did it for five years.
Even once I had run a handful of marathons and was close to qualifying for Boston, when I lined up at the start of a race among all these passionate runners, I still felt like an imposter.
I was just a tourist, doing what runners do, but without feeling like I really belonged.
Sometime during the training for my Boston-qualifying race, where I finally succeeded in breaking 3:10:59, something shifted in me.
Shortly after qualifying, when I was in that happy, weirdly cloudlike space you find yourself in after accomplishing something you’ve worked at for so long, I read Born to Run. And damn if I didn’t feel like a runner after that.
For the first time, I could say that I really loved running, not just as a means of staying in shape or for accomplishing goals, but for its own sake.
And so I became a “runner.” Quotes and all.
Tourist vs. runner
When I was just a tourist, I sometimes took six months off after a marathon before I got motivated to start running again.
But once became a runner, I always had at least two races on my schedule. So even when I finished one, there was another there to get me back out on the roads.
When I was just a tourist, I always ran with a purpose. Speedwork, hill work, tempo run, long run, easy run. I had a goal, and I did whatever I thought was the best way to get there.
But once I became a runner, I would just run. Run the trail. Run the loop through my neighborhood. Run through town. And usually all at the same easy pace.
When I was just a tourist, I put everything I had into the race I was training for. Eat right, warm up, foam roll, ramp up your mileage, taper properly.
But once I became a runner, I became too comfortable. “I know I can finish this marathon whether I train hard and eat right or not. I’ll make it through my 12-miler tomorrow; gimme another beer!”
Time to be a tourist
Looking at it that way, it sort of seems like I was a better runner before I was a “runner.” In fact, I’ll bet a few runners just took offense to my abuse of the title.
Having worn that label for a couple years now, I think I’m ready to put my tourist hat back on.
I want to feel free to experiment. If, say, I want to just swim for three months (and finally learn to go more than eight laps and not look like a wounded duck), I’d like to be able to do that without feeling guilty about not running. Who knows, maybe that’s what it’ll take for me to finally want to do an Ironman.
Or if I want to lift heavy weights and pack on a few pounds, it’ll be a real relief not to worry about how that extra weight might slow me down. And that extra strength might end up making me a stronger trail runner.
So that’s what I’m doing. Today I’m joining the gym again, and I think I’ll go lift some weights. Maybe tomorrow I’ll swim. Or be the only guy in the cardio-kickboxing class. (Although, if after that I come back and say I’m going to become an MMA fighter, please kick my ass before someone else does for real.)
I’ll still run when I want to. But for a little while at least, I won’t call myself a “runner.” And I am freaking pumped about that.
Does your label still fit?
If you’re a runner or a swimmer or a triathlete, an omnivore or a vegan or a Paleo, or an anything-else-with-a-label, give yourself a little checkup. Take a step back and make sure that label still fits the person you want to be.
If it does, then think about what it really means, and make sure you’re living it — not just going through the motions.
And if you decide you’d be better without that label, even if just for a little while, then ditch it. It’ll still be there when you’re ready to come back. And when you’re ready, I bet you’ll come back with more passion than ever.
And you never know — you might just find another label that’s a much better fit.