great campsite reading

I am not a runner. I have reconsidered this personal signifier on a number of occasions since late October. By moments I have thought I might be a runner, like when I am so inspired by other runners — a friend who runs, a beautiful woman of 80 who began running at age 50 gracing the cover of a magazine — but always I come back around to believing, to knowing deep within me, I am not a runner.

When I began training last August for the 10k run of the PEI Marathon, I did so as a focal point.  At week 1, I was finally able, after more than a year inactive with injury, to move mostly free of pain.  Though I was still unable to hit the weight room with a consistent vigour, where I really wanted to expend my energy, training for the 10k became a stopgap goal.  It fit what I needed and running and I became good friends.

During the first week of training I read Running & Philosophy:  a marathon for the mind, which I started while camping. Oh, this was gooood fireside/beach reading.  Quite a number of the essays spoke to me.  Some with a whisper of recognition, others a bit more aggressively, with a shape and sound of a ball-peen hammer striking red hot iron draped over an anvil…shaping my thoughts around my 10k training. I have returned to the book and reread a couple of these essays in the weeks since the run.

Raymond J. VanArragon is a professor of philosophy at Bethel University and a former college track and cross-country competitor. As he settled in to married life, he was exhorted by a former team mate to not become ‘a jogger’. His chapter of the book, entitled In Praise of the Jogger, takes us through his ponderings of the difference(s) between a runner and a jogger. The difference, he concludes, is not based on speed – though this is what I would have thought – but rather on motive.

The runner and the jogger run in pursuit of different goals, and that’s what makes them what they are.

The runner’s primary motive is competitive – to win or to get faster or to place higher. The jogger’s main goal is fitness in the best sense – to benefit physically and mentally, to be more fit and to live a good and productive life. VanArragon is impressed with such a motive as sufficient to get the fitness runner out the door consistently though he also sees many admirable qualities in the runner.

Reflecting on VanArragon’s framework, I would fall into the category of jogger. Somehow though, there seems to be a stigma associated with this word which pushes me away, makes me want to say ‘i am not a jogger’.

Particularly in the worlds of (some) race runners and (some) everyday road warriors, the sluglike asic-clad heavy breathing excessively perspiring curb hugger which looks like me, well, we aren’t always welcomed into the club. This is off-putting.

Those of us who identify, in our hearts and souls, as runners find it especially disheartening to not be open-armed welcomed into this amazing club. I have a wonderful new friend, Diane, over at downhourtraining, and she is a runner. She is most definitely a runner. Her brilliant prose eloquently expresses her essential runningness. I love that Diane is a runner. She is a runner and she knows it!  Confidence is worn like a mantle of Venus.

I, on the other hand, cannot conceive of myself as a runner. I cannot, in my head or heart, apply that label to myself. Though I run, I am not a runner.

VanArragon places the motives of joggers, within a broader framework, one which resonates for me:

joggers can participate in races; they can train extra hard from time to time in order to run fast times, and so on…the jogger is different from the runner in virtue of the fact that those things merely add variety to her running. They are not her fundamental motivation for running. When there is no race to train for and no challenges to meet – other than the constant challenge of living a good life – she gets out there and runs anyway. And when she does for a time pursue those challenges, she keeps them in perspective, recognizing the overall purpose for which she runs and not getting unduly wrapped up in those secondary (and temporary) goals that she has set for herself.

When I trained for the October 10k, it was the first time I followed a formal training program. I chose a program to increase my speed, and it did. Truly surprisingly, I found myself most enjoying the sprint days.  Who’d have guessed that? And at the end of the program I found my base running speed had increased from 5.2 – 5.3mph to 5.6 – 5.8mph. My sprint speed went from 6.0mph to 6.8mph. This is still a wonderment to me. I so much enjoy the extra edge which has been added to my running, the slight craving I have developed for interval running, the fact that I finally ran a sub 30minute 5k.

I am ready to claim it, to exclaim it, to declare that though I am not a runner, I am a jogger.

I am a jogger!