It is a stellar Tuesday morning. The sun is shining in full glory over the Webster track. I grab a towel, hat, and water bottle from my car. Jake grabs his gear bag. It’s stashed with hydration, a pair of racing flats, and some miracle muscle ointment. We stroll across the parking lot, through the revolving gate, and across the track to the bleachers. We’re both wearing split shorts and compression sleeves. I’m sporting my lucky red “Spencer’s Grill” plastic sunglasses, which I purchased for two dollars after scarfing down a #4: two eggs (over easy), white toast, turkey sausage, and hash browns.
We run a two-mile warm-up, during which we establish two things: 1) even though Jake is dead inside, he has intellectual empathy, and 2) the term “serious recreational runner” is stupid.
“No… no… What is wrong with you?” Jake asks as we run the final laps of our warm-up.
“I am! I’m a ‘serious recreational’ runner.”
“Just because you’re not necessarily ‘elite’ doesn’t mean you’re a ‘recreational’ runner.”
“Serious recreational,” I correct him.
He shakes his head, exasperated.
I tell him I know my place. I know who the fast runners are—the really fast runners. They’re on a different level, I say. I tell him about the 10K I raced this weekend, and how the first two females crossed the finish line in thirty-seven minutes. That’s fast, I say. That’s a whole other level, I say. They’re serious runners, I say. I’m a serious recreational runner.
“That doesn’t exist,” he counters. “Being a ‘serious runner’ has nothing to do with how fast you are.”
“You’re a serious runner. You take your training seriously. Look—the fact that you’re mad about your time last weekend shows that you care. And if you care, you’re a serious runner. It has nothing to do with how fast you are.”
He may be dead inside, but he’s got some wisdom, that one.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: runners are plagued by an epidemic of personal undervaluation. We’re always qualifying our perceived status in the running world. If someone calls us runners, we go out of our way to make sure they know we’re not good runners or fast runners or talented runners or fit to tie the shoes of other runners. We have in our minds this idea of what a real runner looks like—lean, sinewy, gazelle-like with Kenyan speed and endurance—and because 99 percent of us don’t fit that mold, 99 percent of us are convinced we aren’t really runners at all. We just try to run.
Are you a serious runner? (Nope—stop right there. I’m not talking about pace. Or ability. Or experience level.) Are you serious about training? Do you run long runs? Do you run workouts? Do you have a race coming up, follow some kind of training plan, foam roll, take GU, hydrate, go to bed early on Friday nights, wake up early on Saturday mornings, or wear compression on any part of your body? Then you’re a serious runner.
Do you know what’s helped me realize I am a serious runner, regardless of ability? Sand volleyball. For real.
Last year, I joined my friends’ sand volleyball team. Last year, I joined my friends’ recreational sand volleyball team. You see, the word recreational is actually in the title of our league. Our team name is The Squirrels. Four of our team’s six members have zero real volleyball experience. And one team member (me) had never even hit a volleyball until she joined the team last year.
Actually, I take that back. When I was in fifth grade, I took one complimentary indoor volleyball class courtesy of the West County Christian Home Educators. (Shout-out to my peeps!)
We joke with the ref (Donna), and joke with each other and, occasionally, borrow members from another team when we’re short on players. Like last month, when My Morning Jacket came to town and three Squirrels bailed on the match in favor of the concert. We compliment each other for “good volleyballing.” Most team members hydrate with beer between sets. We have team shirts, which adds a nice touch of validity, but half of us are number “7” because we failed to check with other team members when we placed our orders online.
This is recreational sand volleyball. There is no recreational Chicago Marathon.
I love the Squirrels, but I am not a Squirrel in the same way I am a runner. I mean, I spend a grand total of $40 to be a Squirrel, and that comes in the form of a one-time registration fee at the beginning of the season. On running I spend at least… a lot more than that.
Serious isn’t a pace. It’s a state of mind—and the action that results from that state of mind. Serious runners come in four-minute miles and fourteen-minute miles and everything in between. So stop qualifying your passion.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.