When is a Run Not a Run?

No chance, sunshine. I’m calling BS on that. I didn’t put 16 weeks of blood, sweat, tears and foam rolling into that race to have anyone call me a jogger.

At the weekend I watched two fascinating documentaries about running.

One was about Mary Decker and Zola Budd, and the dramatic fall that occurred when they raced each other in the 3,000m at the 1984 LA Olympics.

The other was about Roger Bannister, the first man to break the 4 minute mile barrier.

In the documentary about Mary and Zola, Mary mentioned towards the end that she could no longer run because of a catalogue of injuries she now has to manage – the distressing legacy of many years at the top.

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Mary Decker and Zola Budd in the 1984 Olympics 3,000m race

I was confused; there had been clear footage of her at the start of the programme running in what was clearly the present tense. Not a middle distance sprint, but still going at a fair lick. At the end of the programme Mary referred to this as a ‘shuffle’.

In the Roger Bannister programme, one of the contributors stated that when he first ‘went up’ to Oxford, Bannister was considered a middling runner…because he was only running a 4:24 minute mile.

Excuse me? Middling, at 4:24? I can barely run an 8:24 mile, let alone 4:24. The only mile race I have ever run clocked in at 8:17, at full, flat-out effort.

Now clearly I’m not genuinely comparing my amateurish plodding along in the bottom third of the pack with these legendary Olympians, but it raises an interesting question. How fast do you have to be to call yourself a runner?

Wikipedia gives one definition of jogging as moving more slowly than 10k in an hour; so, give or take .2 of a mile, roughly 10 minute miles. So should those of us who cannot maintain a sub-10 minute mile across all of our distances be forced to say that we are joggers, not runners?

By this definition I am a ‘runner’ during all my tempo, speedwork, and races up to a half marathon, but I am currently only a marathon ‘jogger’.

No chance, sunshine. I’m calling BS. I didn’t put 16 weeks of blood, sweat, tears and foam rolling into that race to have anyone call me a jogger.

My first marathon took me 4 hours and 55 minutes. Some people think that you shouldn’t be allowed to say you have ‘run’ a marathon if it takes you more than 5 hours. Initially I think my subconscious agreed on some level because I was desperate to finish in under 5 hours and thrilled when I managed it, but I couldn’t have told you why it really mattered.

Immediately after I finished this attitude changed completely. Literally as soon as I crossed the line, I decided that any person who sticks it out for 26.2 miles at their best effort is a marathon runner, and I couldn’t give a crap how fast or slow they are. I know lots of people who run marathons and never intend to run one faster than 5 hours. They keep going, they keep it steady, and they get there.

After all those miles and all that training will they or I only be real ‘runners’ if we complete a marathon in a faster average pace than 10 minute miles? Bollocks to that.

My long run pace for marathon training is currently sitting at 11 minute miles. At the start of a session this does, admittedly, feel almost awkwardly slow and I am hoping to persuade my coach to let me speed it up to a 10:45 pace. However even at 11 minute miles, if you called me a jogger 16 miles into a long run I would punch you square in the chops.

36894c78be9edba1d3f8b57d722817f1It’s all relative. On Saturday at parkrun I overtook a lady who was absolutely busting a gut but was doing, I would guess, somewhere between 11 and 12 minute miles. I was taking it fairly easy because I had decided it would be really sensible to do 13 miles BEFORE parkrun to get my long run in on Saturday instead of Sunday due to, you know, life outside of running (it’s there, I checked).

But just because I was moving at 2 minutes per mile slower than my flat-out effort, and this lady was at her flat our effort at roughly the same speed, why should that make me consider myself more of a runner than her? She wasn’t jogging, even if she was technically moving at a slower pace. She was working really hard. For her, this was definitely running. I would have defended her to the hilt if anyone had said otherwise.

In our running club we have a very successful Beginner’s Programme. And we also have joining criteria which states you must be able to run 5k without stopping. There is no mention of pace. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, just that you go. We are a running club, very definitely. We have plenty of sub-3 hour marathoners and a 5k club record of 16:43. No one ever, ever accuses the slower runners of being joggers. Certainly not within earshot of me anyway. A friend said the other day that she thinks our club is brilliant in this regard because we are showing that it really is possible for anyone to run a marathon, and that actually a lot of our slower runners happen to also be the ones who don’t get injured….so make of that what you will.

When it comes down to it, is it even possible to be arbitrary in this definition of running? A 9 minute mile is as far as an 11 minute mile, or a 13 minute mile. If you are out there, working hard, putting your best into it and getting results you are proud of, then you’re a runner in my book.

I have completed 9 half marathons. I have also completed one full marathon, and I am signed up for two more. By the time I get to my third marathon, London in April 2017, I do hope to complete it in an average pace of less than 10 minute miles. But I consider myself a runner now, and completing a faster marathon will not change that for me.

I belong to a running club. I wear running shoes. I use a runner’s watch to log my miles, monitor my pace, and see my improvement. I have a running coach.

I am a runner. So is anyone who laces up their shoes and heads out for a run.

Fast, slow, or middling.

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8 thoughts on “When is a Run Not a Run?

  1. I was ranting about this recently as someone told his child to make way for the jogger when I ran past on a run the other week. I was most definitely not in jogging mode but told myself its just terminology. Bothers me less when non runners say it but other runners, well…

    This whole debate is the reason I stay well clear of ever reading the forums on Runners World etc. I always seem to stumble across people with the attitude of if you are slower than 10 min mile then you aren’t running or if you don’t do intervals, tempo runs etc.

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    1. Silly isn’t it? If you’re going at your own best effort pace then that’s running! It puts pressure on. I do feel sometimes I would like a ‘this is my long run pace’ top though 😊

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  2. Great post. That’s a crazy definition of a jogger. I run around the 10 min/mile range and will probably run even slower for the full and I’d never thought of myself as a jogger. Isn’t it inspiring to see people just trying their hardest at running? It’s one of my favorite parts of racing.

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    1. Absolutely. I may just about manage 10’s for the marathon I’m training for now, but certainly not sub-10’s! It’s because ‘jog’ seems to be used as something so disparaging. I might say I’m ‘jogging’ in between intervals or something but I’m buggered if I’ll let anyone else say it!

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  3. Jogger/runner is a really difficult question. I definitely run in what would qualify as jogger pace from the definition given – but that pace is (slowly) improving, and I can now run further. I’m not sure what I am but it makes me happy 😉

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    1. For me it comes down to how people say it and what they are happy with – the same way that if I think I look tired then it’s ok for me to say it, but if someone else said it I would assume they mean ‘you look like crap’! I think people find it patronising – if I’m putting in a real effort and some wise guy asks if I enjoyed my jog I would find that a bit insulting. I would assume they were calling me slow, and that diminishes what I’ve achieved for myself.

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