Although now I quite happily call myself a trail runner, this was not always the case. I don’t exactly have a lot of ‘runner traits’. I am definitely not what someone thinks of when they bring that phrase to mind. I do not look remotely like anyone that has ever been on the cover of Trail Runner magazine*.
*Full disclosure I did not review the entire back catalogue of Trail Runner Magazine. They may feature a cover of a short legged, stocky redhead, but if so it may just be on their ‘Which dog breed is best for running?’ feature.
I have a very inconsistent relationship with running, which seems like another point against achieving ‘runner’ status. So far this year, I have run almost 184km. This time last year, I ran 150km in a month. So I suppose you could say that currently running and I are in an ‘off again’ period. But like all of these relationships, we have had good ‘on again’ times, which we (I) cling to. I have run a few trail races, like a marathon in the mountains of the Pisa Range in NZ’s South Island, the length of the Routeburn Track in the Southern Alps on my birthday and a 60km loop around Fiordland’s Kepler Track, as well as a handful of shorter races here and there whenever running and I were ‘going steady’.
Another ‘non runner’ trait of mine is that I am incredibly slow. Slower speeds are not uncommon in trail running, often due to the steep climbs and varied terrain underfoot. This makes it difficult to compare times over distances, unlike road runners, who can easily flex their best 5K or marathon time to assert dominance over one another. Although sadly some road runner (I bet) came up with a thing called ‘Grade-Adjusted Pace’ but lets not go there.
I enjoy this aspect of trail running very much, as I was never going to have what could be considered a ‘good marathon time’ and now I don’t have to. I also find it stops me constantly comparing myself to others and lets me focus on self improvement. Or better yet just having a good time while I’m out there.
Despite the rocky nature of our relationship, I have discovered what makes me feel comfortable to say I am a runner. It is the fact that I just really love running.
It seems odd to say you really love something that you spend a lot of your life procrastinating prior to doing. Sometimes even dreading. Often even when you’re doing it, it objectively sucks. How can I truly love running when sometimes I don’t do it for months? If I was a real runner, I would be up pounding that pavement every morning before anyone else has even considered peeking out from under their blankets. If I was a real runner, I would have an elongated physique that floated effortlessly across the ground. Surely at least I should know my 5K PR??
But this is just it. If I didn’t truly love running, why would I return to it so many times after various hiatuses? Especially knowing that it would be even more difficult to get going again. Why would I suffer through the ‘getting back into it 3km jog’ – a ritual the inconsistent athlete knows only too well. The shame of just surviving a distance that would have made past you scoff, at paces desperately slower than runs you did of four times the length.
If I didn’t love running, why would I keep doing it when it was made even more difficult by the kilos of wine and pasta weight accumulated on a prolonged European holiday? Especially when I knew that the tiny efforts I was doing (and the ongoing consumption of said wine and pasta) were not going to make any headway into modifying that situation.
If I didn’t love running, how would I still enjoy time spent running with people much faster than I am? My two best trail running pals frequently wait for me at the top of hills, or double back because they’ve got too far ahead. But I feel no shame, nor less of a runner than they are. One of my favourite trail races ever involved my speediest friend running the last part of the race with me, as she had already finished and sat around long enough to get bored. I didn’t feel bad or embarrassed about it, it was awesome to run with my pal. Plus, it was probably quite a good cool down for her.
There is something about running that just keeps drawing me back in, despite the knowledge that getting back in is inviting much suffering into my comfortable, running free, existence. There is just something missing without it. And that in itself, I think, is what makes you a runner. Even if (read, when) you hate it sometimes. Even if you aren’t very good at it, despite many years of practice. Even if your legs are too short, or you’re ‘not the right body type’ or your gait looks weird. Even if you stop doing it for months, even years, on end. Knowing that at some point, you will start running again. There is no choice, it is an inevitability. You will be drawn back in, because you are a runner.
This post was partially inspired by Brendan Leonard of semi-rad.com and his hilarious running related content. This post and this post in particular (but all his stuff is great so don’t limit yourself).