Written Michael Anderson
I have greeted most mornings over the last quarter century by lacing up and going out for my pre-dawn jog. It is amazing to me as someone who was always the slow fat kid, that more of my life has been as a fairly thin runner at this point. Yet it is only for the last year that I have really been a runner, and more recently I have joined the online running community.
At first I latched onto the ‘big name’ sites and blogs, then to others recommended by runner friends, and eventually to blogs that reflected my values and my stage in life. Because while blogs from young women in their mid-late twenties are well written and interesting, I connected more with folks like Harold Shaw. When I saw the title of his blog I knew he was from Massachusetts or Maine, and I correctly guessed Maine. And after following his blog for a bit I came upon a guest post from a certain Ann Brennan, and have been a fan since. Happily married, focus on kids, trying to balance it all with an active lifestyle and with doubts about ALL of it … Now THAT was something I could identify with!
But I do have to call Ann out on two things … Stop apologizing for the things you care about and stop putting yourself down for your appearance. You have passion about causes, and you are awesome – you have a husband and family that love you, and you are an IRONMAN! So quit it, okay?
After several long-winded replies on her posts, Ann asked me to consume some of her bandwidth with a meandering unfocused post about something marginally running and family related. There were a few things I came up with – the concepts of jogging vs. running, the so-called “runner’s body”, and how to get my younger son out running with me. Failing the third so far this summer I decided to attack the first two in separate posts. Here is something that has troubled me for years – the use of ‘jogger’ as a pejorative term.
What Is the Difference Between a Jogger and a Runner?
I was in elementary and junior high school in the Boston area in the mid-late 70s when Bill Rogers was a huge force in long distance running. Along with Frank Shorter he had brought a ‘jogging craze’ to the nation, increasing sales of cotton and velour ‘track suits’ that looked awful and performed worse.
But it also brought the notion of the jogger to the national stage. My understanding back then was that running was something done in races, whereas jogging was that casual activity involving plodding around the streets of a town slowly. Running was competitive, jogging was about health, fitness and weight loss. Intrinsic in all of that was speed – runners were fast and joggers were slow.
In my own personal history I grew up as a fat kid. Though pictures of me in the mid-70s wouldn’t stand out now, back then I wore pants from the Sears Husky section. I had a particularly demoralizing picture circulated of me in 5th grade as an “elephant with earrings” (the horror!) and I was slow enough that my gym teacher made fun of me. Even my mother said I looked like bionic man Steve Austin rounding the bases in baseball (the TV show depicted speed with slow motion).
I graduated high school at over 275 pounds on my 6’1″ frame, and by college graduation I tipped the scales at a morbidly obese 375 pounds. My weight was depressing, but owing to a “hide your feelings” upbringing I tended to “EAT my feelings”. The result was that the worse I felt the more I ate.
Finallly, in February of 1989 I decided to lose weight and I started to “jog”. I also cut way back on calories, made better food choices and ran around the basketball court daily. I was heavy enough that it took a couple of months for anyone to notice, but once they did my enthusiasm accelerated. By that fall I crossed under 200 pounds and was jogging 2 to 3 miles a day.
I have spent the majority of the next two decades or so hovering around 200 pounds, with a couple of times getting back up to 225 or even 240 pounds before re-establishing my exercise routine. During that time I never ran in public. I went out before dawn on lightly traveled routes and basically saw no one else. I had runner friends who suggested I get involved in races, but I never had any interest. In fact, I ran with another person exactly once before 2012 – on my wedding day I ran 3-4 miles with my brother. That was in 1992.
Why? That is an easy one – speed. I continued to see myself as glacially slow – and I really was very slow in general. Jogging was something I did to keep weight off … And quite frankly my childhood had planted feelings of shame about my running pace that prevented me from ever wanting to share it with anyone else.
In late 2008, as the economy started to tank my former company had been doing “rolling layoffs”, which got to my group in the fall and I found myself out of work. As I smarty used up remaining health benefits while job hunting, my physician discovered that my thyroid was failing fast. When I arrived in Corning, New York, found a new primary care physician and received new meds, I joined the local gym and the weight came off fast.
But I noticed that I could not get back into running. I tried numerous times but it just was not happening. I had lost my running mojo. The kids’ school schedules changed as they entered middle school and I quit the gym and slowly built up weight again. Although I tried numerous times, I never sustained running for more than two weeks, and my eating habits had once again become pretty lousy.
My brother ran the Corning Wineglass marathon in 2011 and challenged me to join him in 2012, but it was not until Easter of 2012 when he visited that I got a wake up call. We went out for a run – I had just started jogging again the week before – and he had his Garmin to tell us just how slow and short we ran. I assumed I was running a slow 4 miles … But instead it was a glacial 2.25 miles. This was NOT a great start with a marathon 6 months away. Worse still I had gotten back to 275 pounds, my second heaviest weight ever.
But, armed with this information, the next week I was out there for 4.75 miles, using my Droid as a tracker. Slowly, I moved to 5.25, 5.75 and 6.25 miles per average run. Another statistician in my department emailed the group about the local Komen 5K, and I decided to enter – my brother advised getting in a few races before the marathon just to get comfortable with the process. I did a ‘test run’ the day before and averaged 12 minute pace, so my goal was simply to break that – and I ended up with a 10:18 pace. I was not first, but I certainly wasn’t last, and no one laughed at me.
OK, so I mentioned that I only recently got into the ‘online running community’. That happened after ‘jogging’ the 5K and getting serious about training for the marathon. One thing I quickly noticed was that almost everyone referred to what we were doing as ‘running,’ but there were some very vocal people who made clear distinctions about what it took to be a ‘real runner’ compared to a ‘casual jogger’. Many of those comments really hit home for me, putting me back to feeling like that slow fat kid in elementary school. So I continued to refer to myself as a jogger.
Still, that first 5K was a huge moment for me. Over the next few months I ran another few 5Ks, an 8K and even a half marathon – but the ultimate goal for me was the marathon. When it arrived on September 30th I was ready – but feared not being able to finish after under-fueling for the half marathon. So I ran a solid pace that I knew I could maintain, and crossed the finish smiling and feeling great at 4:20 flat.
And suddenly, I was a runner. I had run a marathon, two half-marathons, was putting in more than 50 miles each week (some weeks more than 75 miles), and I had cut my pace by more than 33% over the previous 6 months. I felt like the pile of data was now suddenly large enough that I could justify calling myself a ‘runner’ rather than a ‘jogger’.
Of course, this is just silly.
The reality is that I was a runner back in 1989 when I first made the hard choice to lose a huge amount of weight and start down that path. I was a runner every morning when I dragged myself out of bed to lace up and run. I was a runner when the temperature dropped below zero or rose about 90 degrees, when there were a few feet of snow on the ground or torrential downpours soaked me quickly … and yet I ran.
Am I a different runner now? Certainly – I run more days, more miles and at a faster pace. I love running with others and seeing others out when I am running. I will go out any time of day or night, and wave to anyone who waves to me. And it is clear in how people react to me – when someone mentions my running ‘habit’ no one looks at me dubiously … they might think I am a bit nuts, but they do not doubt me or question my ‘runner credentials’.
And in reality I should never have questioned them myself – and that is my point. ‘Jogger’ is a term that for some is interchangeable with ‘runner’, but for many it carries a lower status. The media seem to use ‘jogger’ only to describe non-racing situations, and generally when bad things happen to someone out on a run.
In certain corners of the running community there are those who place ‘timing thresholds’ on being a REAL runner, and I have seen bloggers in those places rip apart young runners by telling them to not even bother unless they can do a certain distance at a certain pace.
Ann tells the story of coming in last place, and one of my other favorite running bloggers takes pride in a ‘age group’ prize she won – because she was the only one in that class! The truth is, once you have made running a part of your life you are a runner. Running is HARD work, demanding, requires dedication, motivation, and patience (especially when dealing with injuries).
Running is running, regardless of the pace. So celebrate being the best runner you can be, and don’t let anyone tell you anything different.
Mike has been very happily married for just over 21 years, and he and his wife have two teen boys in high school. After spending more than 42 years as a Boston boy, the economic crash of ’08 necessitated a move and he is now a statistician and metrology engineer with Corning Inc in western NY. He is also an editor at GearDiary.com, writing about music, gaming, technology, and running / health. He started running to lose weight in 1989, and started running road races at 46 in 2012, with goals of qualifying for Boston and running an Ultra.