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Wednesday 13 May 2015

Runner: I Label Myself

I saw a post recently that made me sad. It was labelling runners. A friend had said she wasn’t a marathon runner because she hadn’t run the whole way in a marathon. I don’t like labelling people. It judges them, puts them in a little box and it’s unfair. Everyone’s story is different and we don’t all fit the little boxes.

Labelling excludes people more than it includes them and running is the opposite of that. I’m not sure why it should be but it is. If you run, you’re automatically included in the community, in the pack.  

I train alone most of the time but I know that despite this, if I see a runner on the street, they’ll probably nod or wave whether they know me or not. I know that my running friends will listen to my training woes and offer helpful suggestions to problems, I know that when I fail in a race, they’ll be there to offer support. We may never all get together, we may be miles, even countries apart but we’re a community. A group. A collective of lycra clad, trainer-obsessed runners. And we’re all in it together. 

We may run for different reasons, for a new personal best time, to win a race, to do something we’ve never done before or for peace of mind or to keep the sadness away or to feel the burn of effort in our lung, our legs, our hearts ... but we’re in it together. And we all know the satisfaction of our footfalls on the paths.

Most of us in this pic hadn't met before Equinox 24

It never ceases to amaze me that we can come from such different starting points, have such different aims but be able to talk so freely. The 12 minute miler and the 6 minute miler sharing their tales of their latest parkrun personal best or the ultra runner and the club runner discussing nutrition race strategies. Even the solitary runner feels this bond, knows that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

The Boston Marathon Bombings showed the solidarity of runners. We all mourned the hurt and the felt the horror of it. Miles away, countries away, we were all shaken by what happened to normal people, running people, OUR people. And again it demonstrated our community, our inclusiveness. 

So please don’t label us. If we have finished a marathon, whether we ran the whole way, stopped for a few steps at the water station or had to walk for a mile we’re entitled to call ourselves marathon runners if we want to. Please don’t try and take our achievements away with your words. Your opinion may not matter, but why would you want to hurt someone for their amazing achievement?

So let’s agree just to give ourselves one label: runner. 


  1. Hey Sarah,

    I both agree and disagree. I don't think anyone needs to pass a 'test' to say that they are a runner, or to allow themselves to identify as one. I think it is sad when you hear people say, "I'm not good enough to be a REAL runner".

    Like you, I identified massively with the Boston marathoners. The deep sadness of feeling like my group had been attacked. The horrified reaction to spectators- the people that SUPPORT US- being targeted. The understanding of the combination of horror and frustration- that people had trained up to this dream marathon only to have it ruined for them and have that day permanently tainted.

    THAT SAID, I (and you I presume) feel that way because we personally identify as a runner and that means something to us. To the contrary, if the label 'runner' doesn't mean anything to someone, they shouldn't feel the need to be identified by that label. Perhaps, 'general athlete', 'active person' etc suits them better. Perhaps they just don't want a label.

    If you think of it like you would think of sexuality: you shouldn't have to qualify yourself to identify as a sexuality (for example if I wished to self identify as bisexual, no one else should be going, "but you've never seriously dated a woman!"). However, at the same time no one else should be forcing that label on me if I felt I was better captured by 'pansexual' or did not want a label at all.

    Anyways, that's my thoughts. Thanks for writing this- it made me think! xo

  2. I feel like I need to defend myself, but defend isn't the right word.... Do I feel like I need to explain myself? No, I don't feel like that either.
    I feel like I have been misunderstood.
    Completely misunderstood. Well, not completely, but a very large lot.
    And some of that is probably my fault for not being as concise as I wanted to be.
    And I don't know if I have the right words now, any better than I did when I originally wrote my blog.
    But I can try now that there has been a counter response (and I thank you for that)

    There are parts of what you have written that I absolutely totally 100% agree with.
    I agree we are all different and we don't all fit the boxes - i say that a lot in my blog too.
    I agree that there is a community, with invisible ties to far away strangers, a shared understanding.

    but i standby "Just because you lace up a pair of trainers, doesn't necessarily make you a runner – for *SOME*, running is something they do – it doesn't define who they are"

    When I am on the street/woods/park/where ever and I have my trainers on, my lycra and I am running - in that instant, running is something I do - it does not make me a runner - if my session doesn't achieve the desired outcome, then I am a failure - and that is bigger and much more real than calling myself a runner.

    At no point in my blog did I say that anyone else wasn't a runner. At no point did it say that those who don't call themselves runners don't feel the bond, don't have knowing nods across the street and talk about pre race poos with strangers.

    I said "I can't call myself a marathon runner – I haven't run a marathon.
    I have completed one, so I am a marathon finisher"
    It was MY blog about ME.

    It was my blog about other people imposing their labels on who I am.
    Currently, I am not an athlete, I am someone who takes part in sport. Other people may see that differently. That's up to them, as you say, we are all different.

    On my marathon day, the marathon in question, it is clear from my blog before, that i LOVED every second of the day - how can that experience be negative?

    But as I said - there are all different shapes and sizes of runner - parkrun to ultra, super speedy and the less speedy. I absolutely agree with you on that. I take my hat of to them - and thats WHY I cant call MYSELF a runner. I am not like them.

    I cant help feeling like I have deliberately been taken out of context by some (I even read comments suggesting I was a bully). Yes I may have worded my thoughts not as coherantly as they might be, but I'm not going to be made to feel like I should apologise for my opinons.
    The number of messages I have had in private regarding support and agreement with my blog, has been huge... and given that I've just advocated for run/walk in my last blog, I can't be that against it.

    1. At the end of my blog in question, I stated "I want more people in sport.
      I want kids passionate about it – and have the opportunity to try all the sports and have access to them all so they fall in love with whatever it is that floats their boat.
      I want men and woman of all ages and abilities to have access to welcoming and supportive clubs and facilities.
      I want people to be proud of what their bodies can do.
      I want people to realise how glorious life can be when it is coloured with endorphins.
      I want everyone to be encouraged to be the best they can be – at whatever they chose to do."

      I want people to be included and the support to be inclusive - so those who swim (or call themselves swimmers) can support those who run (or call themselves runners) It shouldn't be exclusive, sport specific support (I'm not suggesting that it is here either, that isn't my experience of it)

      Neither is right and neither is wrong.
      We call ourselves what we choose to - and I choose not to - you and everyone else is entitled to call themselves whatever they wish, I will continue to struggle calling someone who has walked in the region of 4 miles of a marathon (and I'm referring to myself now) a marathon runner - besides, whats wrong with being a marathon finisher?
      I'm bloody proud of myself thank you very much - I also know how proud I will be when I RUN my next marathon and run all of it. Surely there has to be distinction, if only within ourselves, even if this is only in private?

      I said at the very beginning "Well, here goes, and I hope I can convey what I want to and get the balance right."
      Clearly, I didn't do as well as I hoped I would at that, and for any hurt, I apologise - but i did also say "I don't want to take anything away from anyone, and include myself in that statement."

      Not sure if that has made my thoughts any clearer.
      When I've read this response back, the tone that I hear in my head doesn't convey to the screen, and I suspect that's what was wrong in the original blog - I hope I don't sound argumentative and angry - that couldn't be further than where I am - I'm sad i was taken out of context and wasn't clearer.
      I'm genuinely sorry, if I've made anyone who has achieved immense things in any strain of sport feel as though their achievement wasn't valued.
      But as you say, my opinion doesn't matter - it is about the individuals opinion of them-self and as i said earlier, surely there has to be a distinction, if only within ourselves, even if only once to acknowledge "now, in this instant, now i can call myself XYZ" - even if it only happens when we look back at how far we have come.