What makes a runner? Well, simply put, if you run then you are a runner!
But it can feel otherwise when you are out there pounding pavement for enjoyment rather than actively training with a coach and crew for a race. However, even those who run with the largest training group in town are still running solo come race day.
“Running isn’t about anyone else, except the person doing it,” explains running coach and sports nutrition specialist Kristen E. Scruggs, owner of STRONG FINISH Run Coaching & Sports Nutrition. “Just like on-the-run fueling such as gels, chomps and chews is different for everyone and based on preference, so is running. Not everyone will have the same goals and it doesn’t have to be about racing.”
If you choose to forgo a start line and still want the camaraderie and structured runs, you can absolutely still hire a coach. Scruggs adds that there is so much to learn about the sport and fitness in general, so there is always something you can work on.
“Any runner can benefit from coaching regardless of goals,” concurs coach Daniel Love, owner of Running With Doc. “Coaches can help in many ways: training structure, decreasing injury likelihood, providing accountability, meeting personal non-race goals and more.”
THE CASE FOR NOT TOEING THE LINE
If you’re just looking for a way to stay active and aren’t competitive by nature, running for the fun of it may be for you. You probably won’t be logging the types of long runs you would in half- or full-marathon training, but you are still getting the same health benefits. You could even argue that because you aren’t putting your body through the same stress of high mileage and speed workouts runners training for a race would do, you may even be less likely to develop an injury.
You should, of course, still approach running seriously by getting the right shoes and gear so you can stay comfortable and safe. But as far as training goes, you can just step out the front door and run and find just as much fulfillment as those chasing down a personal record.
“In a lot of ways, running for fun can be even more fulfilling,” insists Love. “Many joys come from enjoying nature, solo time, time with family, mindfulness or prayerful time, unstructured runs going by feel, running with friends no matter their speed, meeting up for coffee, beer or food and much more. One of the beauties of running as a choice for [an] active lifestyle is that it can fit almost any individual no matter their goals and no matter their competitive streak.”
Using running as a way to explore a new city, spend time with friends or even as your daily commute are all ways to experience the sport without ever having to cross a start or finish line. Even better, you can use the money you save on race registration for a fresh pair of shoes or treating your friends to the first round of drinks at your post-run brunch.
MAINTAINING MOTIVATION AS A ‘FUN RUNNER’
When many runners are setting goals they are often related to racing, such as setting a new personal record or even just crossing the finish line. However, there are plenty of other goals you can set that aren’t related to competing — against yourself or others.
“You can set mileage goals based on progressively, gradually building your mileage on weekdays and the traditional ‘Saturday long run,’” suggests Scruggs, “[or set] time-based goals such as [running] 5 miles in 35 minutes.”
In this case, the key to setting the right goal is to identify why you are running in the first place. According to Love, maintaining motivation requires an understanding of what that motivation really is. In some cases, he reveals you may not even need a goal in front of you to keep running day after day.
“If it is well-being, weight maintenance/loss, stress relief, friend/family time, etc., goals can be really important to help get runners out the door,” adds Love. “If motivation is more related to getting nature time, finding solo time or other similar items, goals might not be as important and could even be cumbersome leading to ambivalence or frustration with running. Long story short — it depends on motivation!”
HOW TO RACE WITHOUT ACTUALLY RACING
If you are looking for the racing experience without the pressure of traditional racing, you are in luck — there are options! There are plenty of races that are ‘fun runs’ and are not chip timed, so you can just go out and enjoy the energy boost from other runners. Even more, many of these fun runs have charity partners or fundraising components, so you can raise money and awareness for a cause or association near and dear to your heart.
Another way to experience a race without running one step is by volunteering. Though races usually have a core staff comprised of a race director, medical director and more, many — if not all — of them need help at packet pick-up, water stops and the finish line. Volunteers are a huge part of making a race successful. Volunteering at a large race — such as a World Marathon Major like the Boston Marathon or New York City Marathon — gives you the opportunity to not only contribute to the race day experience of your fellow runners, but also lets you sneak a peek at many of the world’s best elite runners, as well.
“Even if you don’t want to race you can give back to the community by volunteering for a local race to pass out medals at the finish, handing out water/Gatorade at a stop along the course or holding up a sign and cheering on and encouraging other runners and friends along the course — we always appreciate the volunteers,” assures Scruggs. “Running always gives more than it takes!”
The bottom line is, no matter how fast, far or frequent your runs are, as long as you are out there putting in the time and effort, you are a runner. Don’t let the lack of competition or personal records make you feel like any less.
“If you lace up shoes and put some running steps in on a semi-regular basis, you are a runner,” exclaims Love. “Whether you compete or run for any number of other reasons, you are part of the club and one of ‘us.’”