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I’m a Runner, Not a Jogger, But Does That Really Matter?

Posted on March 14 2010

Shortly after I first started running regularly a few years back, an advertisement appeared in Runner’s World Magazine that left me shocked and a bit angry (it was actually one of several in a series of related ads). The ad was for Pearl Izumi running shoes, and the title was “We Are Not Joggers.” To the left is an image of the add (click on it for a larger view), and below is the direct quote of the text:

At Pearl Izumi, we don’t jog. We run. And we think that matters. The thing is, running is endangered. You might find this hard to believe. After all, the number of entrants in your local 10k is surely on the rise, and every Saturday the park is packed with people prancing around in brand-new trainers, trying to nurture their chi or look good for their wedding or whatever. Unfortunately, a few if any of them are running. They’re jogging, a half-hearted fore-aft movement of the legs that has about as much in common with running as bowling. And with all the jogging going on out there, runners are losing the soul of their sport. A sport that started with our ancestors running down dinner and remains to this day predatory at its core. Joggers are prey. Runners are hunters. If you belong to the latter group, revel in the fact that you sit firmly atop the bipedal locomotion foot chain. And run like an animal.

The basic premise of the ad was that “Runners” and “Joggers” are two different groups or classes, with the former being the “truly dedicated,” and the latter being the “half-assed.” The ad was certainly controversial, and I still detest the elitist tone that it portrayed, but it was also thought provoking, and it was really a catalyst for me to evaluate and consider my own transformation from “jogger” to “runner.” While I have run in one form or another, on and off, for most of the past 20 years or so, I have only thought of myself as a “true” runner for about the past 3 years. This brings up an important question that’s very difficult for me to answer: How do you define the term “runner”? Does Pearl Izumi get it right? Are they completely off target? My goal below is to try to at least in some sense articulate my own answer to this question – I’m not sure I really have a good answer, but here goes.

When I think about how I have changed as a runner, and particularly the surprisingly abrupt transformation that occurred in May 2007, I think the primary difference from the “jogger” version of me to the “runner” version of me is one of desire. Whereas I used to run solely as a means of getting some exercise (because it was the “right” thing to do), often largely forcing myself to do so against my own will, I now run because I want to, or even because I have to. Running has become an incredibly important part of the person that I now am, and this was not the case prior to my transformation. Given this, I would tend to define the difference between a “jogger” and a “runner” as a difference between someone who runs because they feel they should, and someone who runs because they couldn’t imagine not doing so.

Being a “runner” is not about racing or fast times, it’s simply about running because you want to run, because you have to run. Whereas before I listened to loud music to help me survive the 20 minutes or so I would slog out on the road, I now wouldn’t think twice about running 26.2 miles with the only sound filling my ears being the footfalls of my fellow runners. This is what being a runner is all about – doing it because you love it, and not because you need to come up with ways to make it tolerable. That being said, where Pearl Izumi gets it wrong is by denigrating those who are “prancing around in brand-new trainers, trying to nurture their chi or look good for their wedding.” I respect anybody who gets out and exercises, whether they are doing so for the love of it or for the positive health benefits that it provides. There was a time when I was one of those people out “prancing around,” and I probably would not be the runner that I am today had I not gone through that phase. Being a “jogger” is not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing, and not something that should be ridiculed by a company that makes shoes to support that very activity.

One of the things that I have realized is that even among runners, goals and motivations vary dramatically. For example, barefoot runners celebrate their ability to participate in this most human of physical activities by taking it back to its most primal form – running the way our ancestors did on the plains of Africa. Other runners run to get outside and enjoy the simple happiness that comes along with being active. Yet other runners strap on high-tech shoes in an effort to shed a few seconds from their next 5K or minutes from their next marathon. Although we all run for slightly different reasons, and what motivates each of us to run is not always the same, at the end of the day we are all runners, and we all ultimately do what we do for the love of the sport. So the next time you see a jogger “prancing around” in the park on your run, give them a wave and a smile – who knows, they might just be a runner in training.

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