3 years ago I recall standing on a street corner to cheer on my son’s teacher. His teacher was running a marathon with her father in honor of her brother who had recently passed away. While standing on that corner, I felt all of my stereotypes of runners being stripped away one by one. To my utter amazement, the streams of people passing by were not all the young, super fit, anorexic with 2% body fat athletes I had expected to see. No… these weekend warriors were the average Joe – people of all ages, shapes, sizes and speeds. Never having been athletic myself, I felt an unexpected excitement and envy at the clang of the cowbells and the unconditional support given by strangers to the weary passing them by.
I recall turning to my husband and saying, “I want to do this some day.” And my journey began in that exact moment that he took my statement seriously and did not fall down to the ground rolling with uncontrollable laughter.
I’ve been running, jogging, shuffling and walking my way through half-marathons since. This has mostly been a solo journey for me. Attempting to run with others, with friends, with family, or during a short-lived Team-in-Training attempt, bring back too many vivid memories of PE at school, of always being the slowest or the last picked on the team. I find comfort in setting my own slow pace. And yet I feel a camaraderie that can only be experienced by those who have trained for and are participating in an event such as this.
When people discover that I’m training, I find myself discounting my attempts. Yes, I’m training for a half marathon… but I’m slow, but I’m usually one of the last to cross the finish line, but I walked most of the distance. I’m not sure why I feel the need to qualify my accomplishments. Perhaps it is because running is the only sport in which the professionals, the elites, and the everyday riff-raff all participate on the same course. So, I make sure that others know that my ego is not big enough to consider myself to be a “real runner”; that I know my place.
What is surprising to me is that I only now, 3 years later, have discovered the term “recreational runner”. What a relief! There is a whole group of runners out there that are running for fun, for personal accomplishment, to improve their health, for the social aspects. They are not running for time records, or to qualify for Boston, or to win. These are the runners whose only goal is to cross the finish line before the course closes. These are the runners who, like me, may jiggle a bit as they jog. These are the runners that make an event of the race, wear the costumes, dress alike as a group, have cute slogans on their t-shirts, or are celebrating a milestone birthday.
With these people, I stand at the back-of-the-pack. We provide encouragement to each other, tell each other that we can finish in the allotted time, swap stories about training. These are my sole-sisters (pun intended; and, yes, generally women as I very carefully choose mostly female-centric races that are likely to have fewer die-hard, aggressive runners, the “real” runners that intimidate me).
While writing this blog, I searched unsuccessfully to discover the definition of recreational runners versus competitive runners. Unless you are one of the elite who is able to make money running, the line may blur for the faster runners. It truly becomes a matter of attitude, competition and goals.
So, I decided to define recreational runners in my own terms: those who understand the need to stop and take a picture at every single mile marker to commemorate this amazing journey.
Happy Recreational Running! Marji