Am I still a runner?

track newsletter

Hi friends! This is Rowan checking in with a new post that I have been working on.

Working at Metro Run and Walk, I often get asked some variation of, “so, are you a runner?” and I always struggle with my answer. When I worked at the store in high school, I happily explained that I was a sprinter on the track team, an avid runner. Now, two years through college, my answer has changed. As an “adult” athlete (I use this term loosely because, at age 20, I don’t always feel like this term explains my life yet) the options for those interested in sprinting who are not elite athletes are quite slim. While there are distance running groups in this area that have literally hundreds of members, you would be hard pressed to find a group of runners who get together to run 100 meter repeats on Tuesday nights. Because of this dilemma, I found myself trying to reinvent, in a sense, my fitness identity. I am sure there are others in this position, so I wanted to explore the idea of what being a “runner” truly means, and if that identity ever goes away.

In a way, the difficulty of translating high school sprinting into adult athletic life has been a blessing, because it allowed me to truly fall in love with fitness, as corny as that sounds. In my freshman year of college, I dabbled in possibly every group fitness class on the market, but found that most lacked the intensity and burn that sprinting gave me. I tried the Insanity videos, and found that while challenging, they got old, fast. I even tried joining the club track team, which, of course, was composed of entirely distance runners. Sophomore year, I found weightlifting, and fell in love. Lifting gave (and continues to give) me the intensity, rigor, and discipline that sprinting did, with even quicker and more noticeable aesthetic results. I began lifting 5-6 days a week, writing my own workouts and learning as much as I could. I recently became certified as a personal trainer because I want to give others the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of resistance training and fitness that I do. I still missed the flat-on-my-back, lungs heaving feeling of finishing a sprint workout, however. And I still found myself wondering, “am I a runner?”

The next stop on my fitness journey, new this summer, is Crossfit. Now, I’m sure nobody reading this is looking for an advertisement on the benefits of Crossfit (apparently Crossfitters are known for being annoyingly preachy), but bear with me. This sport allows me to use all of the lifting that I love, along with some more functional fitness aspects. One part I did not expect, however, was the running. Since joining a Crossfit gym, my workouts have included 800 meter runs, 400 meter repeats, and 200 meter runs carrying 16-pound medicine balls, all mixed in with many other skills. The best part? I’ve rediscovered the knocked-out fatigued feeling that I so missed and that I had not experienced since my track days.

So, we return to the question of what makes someone a runner. Over the past two years, I have realized that being a runner does not equate with being an elite-level miler, nor does it mean having a list of all the marathons one has ran (although I have extreme respect and admiration for all of the people, including most of my coworkers, who have such lists). To me, being a runner means loving and craving the feeling of pushing your body to its limits and testing your mental fortitude. To all the people out there who once ran, who run occasionally, or, like me, run in conjunction with another athletic endeavor: I say you are still a runner, and I think the running community welcomes you with open arms.

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