Before I really felt like I could call myself a runner, there were a few significant milestones that I felt I had to get past.
Instance one: run a race. A lot of people who call themselves runners don't race; they simply put on their running shoes, run I'm sure much faster than I do, and are content with their status as a runner in the running community. I, however, only felt comfortable actually telling people that I was the proverbial "runner" after having a tangible number to which I could point. My first race was in 2008, the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Central Park. I finished it, in some time that I don't remember, which is stored somewhere in someone's notebook. It was the first time I had run outside longer than 400 meters (I had a very brief stint as a hurdler in high school; I only joined the track team so that I could hang out with my high school boyfriend, and only chose the hurdles because somehow jumping while running meant I didn't have to run as much); it was the first time I had run in Central Park. I didn't feel like I could claim runner status then, but still felt it a little more than when I was slogging out three 10:00 miles three times a week on my local fitness center's treadmills.
Instance two: train for a race. As with many of the more ambitious pursuits in my life, I began training for my first distance race to impress a guy. I am sure when I am old and married and, presumably, wise (as I've heard those former two things lead to the latter), I will look back and see how silly it was to take on an athletic endeavor like running a half-marathon as a method to attract the male species, yet I know for sure that now, despite the fact that the aforementioned guy and I aren't together, nor did we ever even date (he does have a lovely girlfriend and we are, in fact, still good friends), it was one of the best decisions of my life. I printed out a basic beginner training program from Runner's World and used to use my hill workouts and long slow distance runs as an excuse to call him and pick his brain (he was a 2-time marathoner and half-Ironman...swoon, even now). Despite the fact that our pseudo-non-relationship ended shortly after I cruised to a 2:02 half-marathon in 87 degree heat and 97% humidity, he inspired me to keep challenging myself at this thing they call running. Less than a month later, I PR'd the 2008 Staten Island half-marathon at 1:55, and haven't looked back, running three marathons in the past 6 months, with one more on the horizon to round out my running fall. The point is before I started my rant d'amour, I trained, planned, iced, stretched, gelled, and worked hard to run a distance race. I was a runner for sure after that, yet rarely talked about it outside my running circle of friends (which was before I had joined a running group, and thus consisted of around 2 people).
Instance three: run a marathon. This one seems slightly self-explanatory. I find it hard to not be able to call someone who has run a marathon a "runner". If you can train for 4 - 6 months (or 10 weeks in my case...oops) and run for the most part a full marathon, you deserve runner status (despite this recent article about slow runners). My next goal in this category is to qualify for Boston. Looks like I have about 18 minutes to shave off and a tough winter workout series ahead of me.
Okay, so for sure, I am a "runner". I am not Paula Radcliffe. I am not Deena Kastor. I am not Brian Sell (ugh, he's so hot. Sorry, had to throw that in there). In the past few months, I've found myself swapping out things in my life that are more in line with my new zen running lifestyle: my traditional crush on superstar hottie Brad Pitt has shifted to a more avant-garde crush on Brian Sell (again, sorry...but please see the awesome article that Amby Burfoot wrote about him running the upcoming NYC marathon, for which, you can be sure, I will be up ass-early to cheer for him at Aid Station #11 on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn); I rarely talk about things like TV and football with guys that I meet in bars, but instead try to chat about the latest goings-on in the professional marathon world; I have contemplated going as Kara Goucher for Halloween...you get the picture.
But recently, on a short 8 mile jaunt in Central Park, I realized that I have also become a completely new kind of runner that I didn't realize I could ever become....I am a non-iPod runner. Partially due to the fact that my iPod is a piece of crap. Anyway, I headed out for this run with it all strapped on only to find out that it didn't work. Well, I guess that just meant I would have to focus on other things like running through Times Square (which, just to make it through the half-mile stretch of Times Square alive is worthy of gold medals and a whole different classification of runner status), and grinding up Harlem Hill with only my inner monologue to get me to the stoplight at the top. And guess what? It was awesome. I focused on trees and crap that had been floating around in my head all day, and upcoming weekend plans. I made a to-do list (which I promptly forgot once I got home) and decided to learn a new foreign language. And best of all, I felt like I had conquered another fear that I had, which was that I was a slave to my iPod and could never fathom doing a training run without it. Now, my iPod (still a piece of crap) has been lying on my desk for weeks, and I still logged a maintenance of 25 miles this week (post-marathon). I feel a little closer to the elites when I run without my iPod, and even a little more zen than I normally feel on a run.
I'm not sure what the next category in "definable characteristics of a true runner" will be for me, but I'll be sure to let you know once I figure it out. Maybe it will have to do with feeling it necessary to sport arm warmers or running barefoot (ick, probably not).