You Are What You Repeatedly Do

You are what you repeatedly do

“I’m not really a runner unless I’ve qualified for Boston.” “I’m not really a runner unless I run fast.” “I’m not really a runner because I only run 3 miles at a time.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? I’ve noticed over the years the hesitancy of runners to call themselves runners if they have not ran x distance at y pace or completed z marathon. And honestly, this self-deprecation about the accomplishment that running is drives me insane. Whenever a runner claims that they are not a “real runner,” I just want to throw my arms up and scream “yes you are! If you run, you are a runner.” So let’s think out loud today over what it means to be a real runner. 

You are what you repeatedly do

Admittedly, I’ve experienced moments of doubt about my own capability as a runner. In part, I think my desire to qualify for Boston emerged from a greater desire to prove myself as a runner.

Maybe it’s my sort of stubborn, “you can’t tell me what to do” tendencies peeking through, but I no longer feel as if I have to prove myself as a runner. And it’s not about what times I’ve ran for my PRs or how many miles I log per week that has caused this mindset shift. 

If you run on a regular basis – weekly, daily, however often – then you are a runner. Don’t argue with me here. It does not matter if you are running a 6:00 min/mile or a 12:00 min/mile, if you are running two miles or twenty, or how much you “look like a runner.” If you run, you are a runner. 

Many of you know that I originally was preparing to be a college professor before I opted for a career as a running coach and freelance writer. I cut my teeth on historical and philosophical texts for six years of college and grad school, a time when running morphed from exercise to a hobby to a passion. One of those texts that I read over and over and over again, until my copy was dog-eared with scribbles in the margins, remains shocking relevant to my work as a running coach: Aristotle.

I’ll skip any summary of Aristotle, because to most of us he’s a 2000+ year old dead Greek guy, and fast forward to the part that matters of you: you are what you repeatedly do. That’s one of Aristotle’s most fundamental philosophies: your intentions, decisions, and actions shape who you are. 

For example, a person is generous if they know what it means to be generous, intend to be generous, and perform generous actions repeatedly. 

So if you know what running is, you decide to run, you follow through with a firm resolve and go out and run, and you do this on a regular basis, then you are a runner. Period. That’s it. It’s not your shoes, PRs, body shape, or favorite race distance that make you a runner: if you run, then you are a runner.

Of course, you are always so much more than just a runner. Running does not define you. But your actions, your intentions, and your habits most certainly do define you as a runner, amongst many other characteristics and qualities.

You have nothing to prove in your running; ultimately, you should run for your health, your happiness, your sanity, your sense of accomplishment, and your competitive drive. You do not need to run marathons or a certain time in a race to verify yourself as a runner. If you run, then the verification is already there.

[Tweet “If you run, you are a real runner #findyourstrong #sweatpink #teamWR via @thisrunrecipes”]

Did you struggle to define yourself as a runner?
What led to you call yourself a runner?


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27 Responses

  1. Even though I have been running since high school, I didn’t call myself a “runner” until there was more of an intention to run just for the sake of running. (Rather than for other sports or for exercise.) Once I started choosing to run and signed up for races because its something I enjoy, i slowly started calling myself a runner, but it felt awkward at first! I still feel weird just saying “Im a runner” and instead I will usually say something like “I like to run alot and Ive done 6 marathons”. I guess I like to give people more of an explanation about my running!

    1. I do think intention and end do have a role – with many of us who run, our end is running a race, rather than another sport. Which is probably why I would never cal myself a weight lifter, even though I lift weights to strength train for running, because the end goal isn’t to be a better weight lifter. I do agree that sometimes we feel like we need to explain running – like, “there’s a reason why I do this so much!”

    1. 100% agree. Runner is just one of the many many things that each of us are! There was a quote NYC Running Mama shared on Insta the other week: “running doesn’t define you, it refines you.” Love it! 🙂

  2. Crack me up that Aristotle is a old Greek dead guy. That he is. But he did say some good stuff. I think I started to become a runner in the true sense of the word, when I stopped using running as a means to an end, and it started to become the end, if that makes sense. It was no longer a requirement, but rather something that I chose to do, regardless of its necessity.

    1. Means and end are so important, especially if we’re going to talk Aristotle. That’s why the intention and deliberate action are important – when something is a means, it a lot less of a deliberate choice than when it is an end in itself.

  3. I’ve considered myself a runner for a long time. I started when I was 8 and all of my earliest memories are of running! It’s always been a big part of who I am so even when I’m taking a break that’s still a big part of my identity. P.S I love when you get philosophical and talk about those old dead Greek guys..I took a philosophy class in college and it was one of my favorite classes!

    1. That’s awesome how young you started running! And thank you! Philosophy classes were hit or miss – I hated the ones on Kant because for some reason I never quite comprehended him, but I loved my classical and medieval classes!

  4. I’ve considered myself a runner since I started running almost 3 years ago now. It was never that complicated to me – I run, so I’m a runner. Granted, I’ve still struggled the entire time with a lot of pace envy, so while I have always considered myself a runner I sometimes feel like an “inferior” runner when I hear others talk about my tempo pace as their “super slow shakeout jog” or whatever.

    I can’t help noticing that the “I’m not a real runner” problem seems much more common in women than men. Interesting.

    1. I think we all struggle with pace envy. While pace is objective, effort is relative – one person’s easy pace may be my gut-busting 5K pace. But then my easy pace is another person’s hard race pace – and the same with you. It’s like what Eleanor Roosevelt said – no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You’re only an “inferior” runner when you view yourself in that way! It’s definitely more common amongst women, probably for the same deep-seated reasons that anxiety, disordered eating, and other issues are more common for our gender.

  5. It took me a long time to call myself a runner, even though I agree with exactly what you wrote. it’s funny how even after college I consider myself a historian (that’s what I was for three years at oxford, after all) but it took nearly a year for me to call myself a runner to other people from when I first ran three miles. It’s all in the mind!

    1. Oh that’s so cool you studied history also, especially at Oxford! What period? My speciality was medieval (hence all the philosophy) with then a sub-specialities of classical/early AD periods and renaissance. It is very much all in the mind. I called myself a runner fairly early on in running, but I was very hesitant to call myself an expert on anything while in academia.

      1. I did early national America (including, actually, the influence of Classicism on early national small-r republicanism), early modern Britain, and tracing the thread of liberty of conscience from the latter to the former. I loved it 🙂 But would also be hesitant to consider myself anything more than well-versed…

    1. There really isn’t! A lot of people throw around arbitrary qualifying times (I once heard someone say you’re only a runner if you run 8 min miles, which is totally illogical), but there are none – running is inclusive to whomever chooses to participate.

  6. I love this post SO MUCH. Aristotle is the shiz. I’m going to hold onto this (you are what you repeatedly do) and keep it close for a while. Not for running so much (I’ve been running forever) but for other areas of my life. I needed this today. Thanks!

  7. Oh man, I LOVED this post! For two big reasons. First of all, it took me until I ran my first half marathon before I felt like I could call myself a runner, despite the fact that friends/family were calling me one way before that. I felt like I had to prove myself but I know now that I definitely didn’t! Second, I love that you said that running does not define us. That has been something I have been slowly dealing with throughout the last 6 months of being injured. I felt like my identity was taken away, and I’m still dealing with my crazy feelings about everything. But running does not define me, even if it was such a big part of my life for years.

    On a related note, does this mean I’m a swimmer now that I’ve been swimming 3 or 4 times a week in the last month? 😉

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you loved it! 🙂 Yes, running can be a big part of your life, but it does not define you. If anything, it refines your character to make you the better version of you 🙂 And I would definitely say that you’re a swimmer!

  8. I think being a runner or a marathoner, and calling yourself that, is a matter of mindset, not a pace or distance requirement. I don’t think you HAVE to call yourself a runner if you run, or a marathoner if you’ve completed a marathon. You can, but if that’s not you, it’s not you.

    I participated in a marathon, but I *don’t* consider myself a marathoner. I’m a runner who ran a marathon. I don’t have a 26.2 on my car or think of myself as a marathoner, because I only ran one, I didn’t enjoy it at all, and it wasn’t exactly my proudest running moment. Honestly, I put a lot more training and hard work into my 1:38 half and sub-21 5K. I *can* call myself a marathoner, but it’s just not me.

    I have friends who run as a part of CrossFit, but don’t consider themselves runners- they consider themselves CrossFitters. I also have friends who ran a marathon as a part of an Ironman Triathlon, but most of them think of themselves more as Ironmen than marathoners.

    IMHO, it’s all about how you see yourself and how you want to identify yourself. There’s no shame in pace or distance- if you’ve run, you can call yourself a runner. If you’ve marathoned, you can call yourself a marathoner :).

    1. I think that the intention part I mentioned and identity are tied closely together. Crossfitters run not with the intention of solely running, but with the intention of doing Crossfit and if running happens to be part of that, then they do it. I think the huge problem is not saying who can call themselves something if they want – it’s that people feel they can’t call themselves what they are.

  9. Aristotle is my man! I was THIS |___| close to switching my major from psych to philosophy in college after falling in love with the ancient Greeks. Well, that and I kind of had a crush on one of my profs 😉 ANWAYS 😆 I don’t really call myself a runner, but at the same time I don’t -not- call myself a runner, if that makes sense? I run every other day, but I also do a tonne of other things to stay active, and running just happens to be in the rotation. If anything, I would probably call myself a snowboarder first since that has my heart and I’ve been doing it for something like 20 years. Yikes. I’m old.

    1. Oh that is so cool you love Aristotle, I didn’t know that about you! 🙂 It’s fun to learn little details like that about other bloggers. Snowboarding looks so fun and that is awesome how much a part of your life it’s become. That’s quite a skill to acquire because as fun as it looks it doesn’t sound easy!

  10. Even though I have a room in my apartment that is decorated with old race bibs, a training calendar for an upcoming race pinned up next to my computer at work and am constantly trying to convince my friends to sign up for races with me, I STILL have a hard time saying that I’m a runner out loud. I think it has something to do with the fact that I took an extended break off from running due to an injury and also a little bit to do with self confidence because I’ve only recently stopped trying to qualify it when people ask if I’m a runner and just own it.

    1. Long breaks from injury can be very mentally tough to deal with, but almost every runner endures that at some point – it doesn’t make you any less of a runner. Yes definitely just own it! PS I love the idea of decorating a room with race bibs, how cool! 🙂

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