Boston Marathon 2014: What’s a “real runner”?

You.

That’s the short answer to that question.

The Velveteen Rabbit worried about being "real" before discovering that you become real just by being loved. The same could be said of runners. If you love to run, you're a real runner. Doesn't matter what your race times happen to be. (Image courtesy of Patou / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
The Velveteen Rabbit worried about being “real” before discovering that you become real just by being loved. The same could be said of runners. If you love to run, you’re a real runner. Doesn’t matter what your race times happen to be. (Image courtesy of Patou / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I hang out in Boston with a group of guys who knew a dear friend and mentor of mine – the person in whose memory I run Boston for Mass General Hospital. These guys are serious runners. They’re all still competitive in their age groups – a few of them nationally – and even though they’ve got 15 or 20 years on me, they can still outrun me most of the time. Serious, serious runners.

Last week I was chatting with one of them – he lives in Watertown, where the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were apprehended, and we were talking about all of the bewildering events last year.

He mentioned to me that he considers me to be a “real runner.” That’s a pretty cool compliment coming from somebody like him, because there’s a bit of talky-talk out there in the universe about whether “charity runners” should even be allowed into a hallowed race like Boston…whether people who had never run a step a year ago should be running Boston this year…whether the whole rock-and-roll, hot-chocolate, color-run-mud-run-fun-run phenomenon has diluted the sport of distance running to the place where it’s not relevant anymore in the annals of “serious” distance running.

Let me reiterate. If you run, you are a real runner.

The first pair of running shoes I used weren't quite this old. But yes, it was a pair of castoff running shoes in 1984 or so that got this whole running kick started in my life. (Image courtesy of PANPOTE / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
The first pair of running shoes I used weren’t quite this old. But yes, it was a pair of castoff running shoes in 1984 or so that got this whole running kick started in my life. (Image courtesy of PANPOTE / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Running was one of the things that basically saved me. It’s been a part of my life since I was about twelve years old, when a young married couple from my church brought me to the high school track in my town, gave me a pair of cast-off New Balance running shoes, and invited me to join them to run around the track a few times.

I loved it.

I cannot tell you why this happened. I am not built for athletic success. Up until very recently, I really didn’t look like much of a runner. But all through the ups and downs of my life, pounds lost and gained, no matter what else was going on in my life, I figured out a way to try to keep on running.

In fact, it was running that led me to the “triggering event,” as weight-loss research experts refer to it, that got me to finally face my weight issues head-on. At a race that I billed as my own personal “comeback race” in November 2008, after months of what I thought was decent self-care and good training, someone snapped a photo of me. And that photo showed a lumbering, unhappy woman trudging towards the finish line. That photo told me that no matter what I thought about how I was doing, I wasn’t taking good care of myself. Not yet, anyway. (It’s the “before” picture at the About The Blog page.)

So I’m still here, thanks to running. Thanks to being a “real runner.”

If you put one foot in front of the other on a fairly regular basis with the intention of going a little faster than you’ve gone before, you’re a real runner. If you raised $5,000 or $8,000 or, yeesh, $55,000 (one of my fellow Mass General Hospital charity runners did exactly that this year) for charity and you’re running Boston on Monday, you are a real runner. If you’re in your golden years and still competing with your buddies on your Sunday morning long runs, you are a real runner. If you got an invitational entry to Boston because you’re running in honor of someone affected by the bombing last year, you’re a real runner. If you’re doing your first marathon on Monday, you’re a real runner.

Get it? Enough with the controversy. If you’re lining up in Hopkinton on Monday, you’re a real runner. I don’t care how you got your race number. Now get out there and get after it.

Yesterday’s #every48 workout: The marathon taper continues. RUN – but a fairly easy one. Four miles, with four two-minute “pickups” in the middle for a bit of speed.

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