I had an interesting conversation with my boyfriend last weekend about what separates a beginner runner from non-beginner. He ran his first sub 30min 5K last Saturday and not only was he excited about his awesome PR, but he also said that he finally “felt like a runner.” He’s been running regularly and racing (multiple 5k & 10Ks, three half marathons, and one triathlon) for the past two years, but hitting this goal was the thing that made him finally feel legit.
I was surprised to hear this at first, but the more I thought about it I remembered how long it took me to feel comfortable telling people I was a runner. I’d done multiple halves and a marathon or maybe two before I finally was able to say “I’m a runner” without following it up with “but I’m wicked slow.” I remember having a conversation with another runner before my first marathon, and he was asking about my goal time (he was trying to qualify for Boston at his next marathon), and I said I didn’t have a goal, I just wanted to finish without needing medical attention. His response was, “what’s the point?” To be clear, I’d been training for about 6 months, running 3-5 times a week; I wasn’t winging this race, but it was my first time running a marathon so my goal was to do my best. I immediately felt like that wasn’t a “real runner’s” goal and that my pace was embarrassing. [fyi: Meb just wrote this fantastic piece that directly relates to this]
Ryan said he’d read multiple articles in men’s health magazines that said things like “if you’re x age you should be running x pace,” and that he felt like until he got there or close, he was still a beginner. I don’t know if this is particular to men’s magazines because I don’t really read a lot of running magazines (omg, does that mean I’m not a real runner?!!!), but I have to say that, in my humble opinion, this standard is total BS.
The flip side are articles or training plans that define “beginners” by volume of running. I understand the need to deferentiate between training levels when talking about trading plans, but it can be hard for someone who has been running regularly for years to hear that if they’re not hitting 20+ miles per week they’re a “beginner.” Ryan pointed out, that if he didn’t have people like me yelling at him not to go crazy increasing his millage all at once, he’d read these articles and think, “I better push myself to do the intermediate training plan because I shouldn’t still be a beginner.” I’ve dealt with this as well when on group runs that are divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced when they really are referring to millage. I have to remind myself not to feel judgment in the labels and to run with the group that matches where I am in my training at that time.
Pace is not what makes you a beginner. Millage is not what makes you a “real runner.” Getting out and running makes you a real runner. Building your skill and and knowledge of the sport and keeping at it makes makes you more than a beginner. There is nothing wrong with being a beginner: everyone starts as a beginner, but feeling like a beginner forever because you haven’t hit some imaginary pace or distance line in the sand, is silly.
I’ve written on this blog before about my own ongoing struggles to not compare my runnjng to other’s and to run my own race, but it has been awhile since I felt like I couldn’t say I was a runner. I’m not sure exactly when the transition happened (maybe around the time I stopped caring how my legs looked in running shorts, haha), but if you asked me, if I were a beginner runner, I’d definitely tell you, no. I’m not the fastest; I’m not an expert; I’m not getting in 20+ miles a week; but running is a consistent part of my life now, and I don’t feel like I need to put any qualifier on the statement that I am a runner.
I’d love to hear from all of you if you remember what race or event finally made you feel like you weren’t a beginner anymore? Getting fitted for shoes the first time? signing up for your first race? Signing up for your 20th race? Or was it hitting a certain goal?