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The Definition of a Runner

There was a time that I used to think that to be called a runner a person needed to run at a certain pace. Of course, that was decades ago and before I really started running a lot. But I have a story for you.

Recently, I tracked a pastor as he attempted the World Marathon Challenge (Matthew Barnett). What is this race? Well, it’s probably one of the most physically demanding races that I’ve ever heard of. Let me explain it to you (and I will ULTIMATELY get to my point :).

The race is this: run seven marathons, on seven continents, in seven days . . . seven consecutive days!!

The marathons began in Antarctica (-35 windchill), then proceeded to South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and then Australia . . . all in seven days! Now, anyone imagining trying to run a marathon a day for seven days, well, that’s pretty tough. But the kicker to me was that due to how things had to be scheduled, Barnett posted that he had completed his third marathon and had only had 8 hours sleep. The marathons are NOT run at the same time every day and I was checking out the temperatures, and the last two could have had temps into the 80s. Seriously, I wondered how the miles, pain, sleep deprivation, and likely dehydration didn’t have some of these people hallucinating by the time they crossed the finish line in Australia!!

Okay, so, Barnett (who I will be interviewing in the near future) developed (not surprising to me) some serious IT band issues. His first three marathons were 4:50, then 4:06 and 4:03 (which is very respectable running). But THEN the beginning of the IT band issues. His times started to slow. His fourth marathon was over 5 hours, his fifth over 6 hours and his sixth was over 7 hours. In his final marathon, he finished under 7 hours (6:43) — an amazing accomplishment!

Here’s the question. At what point do I say that Barnett is NOT a runner? When his pace was slower than 12 minutes per mile? 13? 14? 15? 16?

Okay, now we’re going to break away from this. Do any of you remember Ryan Hall, the 2008 US Olympic marathon trials winner? He recently (Jan. 2016) retired from running. He is a friend of Barnett’s, but agreed to do the challenge with him, but each running at whatever pace was best for them.

Now, Hall, in his prime, dropped a 2:04 marathon time at the Boston Marathon in 2011. Yeah, THAT’S running!! But is it any different than what Barnett did when he crossed the line in 7-plus hours? Well, even though Hall wasn’t in top shape for the World Marathon Challenge, most of his results were in the low 3-hour range (still impressive). No question Hall is a runner, right? Well, his last marathon (Australia leg), he ran a 5:12 — that’s about a 12-minute mile. Some might call that time an embarrassment . . . and for Hall, was it even running???

So, the question again: At what point do I say that Hall is NOT a runner? Don’t laugh. Yes, it was an extremely difficult series of races with all kinds of stressors, but a 5:12 is basically finishing in the bottom half or even bottom third of most marathons.

You may be reading this and thinking, Don’t be a jerk. Both these guys are runners! What they did was unimaginable!!

You’re right. But do you give yourself the same grace?

AND FINALLY, I am arriving at my point. If you’re reading this and you are going out and running any distance, even if you have to walk some, UNDERSTAND that running is relative. Just like you may not be able to imagine running the World Marathon Challenge or maybe not even a single marathon (yet : ), there are people who look at you and cannot imagine doing what YOU’RE doing, even if it is a 16-minute mile pace in a 5K race.

In my opinion, what makes a person a runner is NOT their pace; it’s their determination to run. If you head out the door on a regular basis to run, you ARE a runner! You may not be “fast” in your own evaluation, but when Ryan Hall was running a 3:04 marathon at the World Marathon Challenge, he was an HOUR slower than his best time. Yet, with a 3:04, he’d likely finish in the top 10 percent of most marathons. While most people would be thrilled with a 3:04 marathon, he describes it like he felt like an elephant plodding along.

So, all this to say, my running friends, sure, work to better your times, if that’s what you want to do. That’s great. But no matter what your pace, you ARE a runner. You’re not a jogger, you’re not a quasi-runner, you’re not a slow runner — you ARE a RUNNER! Period. Run with the confidence of knowing that, and if anyone asks, that’s what you tell them. : ) Yes, I am a runner. : )

Have an awesome run today!


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