Am I a proper runner? Do I look like a runner? Do I have a runner’s body?
These are questions that bother runners of all abilities, from those just starting out at c25k to competitive ultra runners. The imposter feeling can be overwhelming and doesn’t necessarily go away with experience. As women we are so often judged on how we look and this is no different when it comes to running. A recent discussion amongst our group revealed that many women who actually run regularly don’t consider themselves to be runners, wouldn’t describe themselves as a runner to others, or even have had their runner status questioned by others!
“I’d say I’m someone who runs, rather than a runner….I always go for a run, yet don’t consider myself a runner?!”
“I don’t feel like a ‘runner’ more someone who likes to run, but my husband would most definitely say I am and has called me out if I’ve hesitated when asked. I tend to say I’m not that fast or not that good. Not sure why thinking about it, I don’t think anyone else is watching with that much interest…”
“I always feel the term ‘runner’ is somehow for the more committed/ more elite than me, I’m just a person who occasionally goes for a run…”
“I have been told that I don’t have the physique of a runner by a close family member. I reminded them that I have successfully run a number of marathons – what about my physique isn’t a runner?”
“Don’t consider myself a runner. I’m someone who uses running to exercise but I’m new to it so that’s what it is to me at this moment in time.”
“The way I see it is how can I be a runner if I can’t even run for a short time/ distance and don’t like running anyway. I hope that’ll change one day…”
“I run and absolutely love it and everything about it…but I still don’t consider myself a runner….I’ve never competed in a ‘proper’ race so maybe I feel I haven’t earned my stripes yet?”
No-one is immune to imposter syndrome
Women in the public eye are not immune either. The newsreader Lucy Owen recently tweeted her feelings after completing week 6 of the Couch 2 5k programme. “End of week 6 couch25k. Michael Johnson tells me I’m now a runner. I beg to differ!”
It is disappointing that the C25k NHS app does not profess you to be a runner until week 6. Week 6! All of that hard work moving your body for 6 whole weeks until you are ordained as a runner by the programme. If Michael Johnson had been saying it from run 1 week 1 perhaps Lucy would believe it by now? Positive affirmation and encouragement are so important for ensuring people can make running a long term habit, especially during those first few weeks when it might seem impossible.
Accomplished competitive runners are not immune to imposter syndrome either. In her book ‘Beyond Limits’, Lowri Morgan has a chapter entitled “Do I look like a runner?’. Lowri discusses her past feelings of inadequacy as a runner, because of not looking the right way or being a certain weight.
I myself feel it – despite having run several marathons, those little thoughts can be hard to quell sometimes, that I’m just not fast enough to be considered a ‘proper’ runner. That I haven’t run a time in a race worthy of being considered a runner. Although at other times I very much think of myself as an experienced runner and have felt affronted when described as otherwise. When I recently signed up to a marathon training programme if you had been running for 5 years or less you were considered a beginner!
I’m not sure of the exact point in my running journey that I decided I was a runner, but one moment really sticks in my mind. I was relatively new to running but had run a half marathon. I was telling a colleague about it. He seemed surprised (my perception – he probably just said something innocuous like “oh really?”) and I immediately chimed in “I know I don’t look like a runner”. It annoys me to this day that I said that! Of course I look like a runner – because I am one!
Realising that you are a runner
It is heartening to see that amongst our group the majority of women do consider themselves to be runners, whether they felt it straight away or took some time to get there. A quick poll out of 72 ladies 67% would describe themselves as a runner, with 22% as a runner sometimes, 10% “not yet” (a positive place to be at least) and only 1% as “used to be”.
At She Runs: Cardiff we are all about running for the enjoyment and place no emphasis whatsoever on speed or distance. Sometimes to believe that you can do something it helps to see other people you perceive as like you doing it! And that is what our group is all about – sharing our experiences of running as “normal” (i.e. not elite) women runners.
Here are some of the positive reasons or moments that made these women realise that yes, they actually are runners based on a few common themes…
“I realised I was a runner when I spent more money on trainers for running than normal shoes!”
“I think I realised I was a runner when the term ‘Jogger’ started to annoy me….No matter how I compare to others who are more athletic than me, I put my heart, soul and body into it, that makes me a runner.”
“I don’t run far or fast but I run – I am a proper runner!”
“I only really realised it when I had vouchers for running leggings ….and I was really excited”
“I always thought I just liked running but now I’ve seen enough “you know you’re a runner when” memes to know I should think of myself as a runner – most importantly because I have to run past my house to get to 5k.”
“I love that us women champion each other’s running journeys. If you put your trainers on and go out – you are a runner.”
“I often feel silly about calling myself a runner because some people can speed walk at my running speed. However, like a lot of others, I’m a big advocate of saying if you run then you’re a runner, so yes “I’m a runner” (shouting it loud and proud.)”
“I love how fit and healthy it makes me feel. Each week no matter how busy I am! I am always trying to schedule my runs in. So yes I am a runner.”
What is a runner?
If thinking of yourself as a runner is still a struggle for you, let’s look at the definitions:
verb: move at a speed faster than a walk, never having both or all the feet on the ground at the same time
noun: a person that runs
“a runner’s body”
noun: the body of somebody who runs
The human body is designed for forward motion. We are all capable of running. If you have laced up your trainers, stepped out that door (or stepped on to the treadmill) and moved your body in a forward motion that is faster than a walk, then you are running and therefore you are a runner. From that very first step. There is no test, no qualifying grade and you don’t need any one else’s approval or validation. It’s as simple as that.
Things that make you a runner:
- you run
Things that have no bearing on whether you are a runner or not:
- your speed
- your distance
- how often you run
- if you take part in races or how many races you’ve completed
- what you look like
- who you are
- your age
- your weight
- how much your trainers cost
- your clothes
- your fitness watch
- how many followers you have on social media
- whether you are in a club
- whether you can run 1 mile/ 5k/ 10k/ half/ marathon ‘sub anything’
- whether your colleague/ friend/ family member thinks you are or not.
Say it to yourself: “I am a runner!’
Here are the inspirational words of Lowri Morgan:
“Because today I realise I don’t need to look different to be considered a runner. I am one. I can run. Uphill. Strong. Fast. I am a runner. I was made for it. My soul feels it; my body know it; my heart longs for it. These are the thoughts I listen to now.”
Myfanwy Thomas, Run Buddy at She Runs: Cardiff