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Real Runners are Just That

By Randee Bergen


I told myself I would contemplate the “I’m not a real runner” quote as I ran The Other Half half-marathon in Moab a few weekends ago. So I let the question roll around in my mind for a couple of days–while camping, during the 13 mile run, and at the post-race party and awards.

I often hear people say, “I’m not a real runner.” We are all runners, some just run faster than others, that’s all. I have never met a fake runner.  –Bart Yasso, Runner’s World Chief Running Officer

I don’t run many races, but when I do, I invariably encounter and interact with many members of our local running club, the Mesa Monument Striders. I started running about five years ago and joined the running club about a year after that. I was nervous, for sure. I didn’t know much about running in general and I knew nothing of running clubs. What did they do? Did they all go out and run together? It was going to be impossible for me to run with a group, to move along at their speed and stay with them. At the time, I didn’t realize that there are several different paces within any group of runners. I thought it would be their pace–the pace of the group–and my pace. But I heard about it and I wanted to meet some other runners and I wanted to stay motivated, so I showed up, out of the blue one evening, to a weekly trail run.

I think it may be the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Suffice it to say I was welcomed with open arms and am still doing group runs and events with these people. A group run, for me, looks like this: I arrive a bit early, like the others, to hang out and chat for a while; we all run, with me going at my own pace and usually running alone or sometimes with one other person in the group; and, then we all meet up again, have a beer, and continue on with the socializing. It works.

As I finished my half-marathon in record slow time for me–but smiling and happy and having enjoyed it the entire way–I was funneled through the beer garden to get my free beer in my commemorative pint glass and then entered into the post-race area. It didn’t take me long to find my people, the Grand Junction runners who were also at this race. They were all gathered together on a grassy hillside waiting for the awards to begin.

What you need to know about these people is that they are exceptionally good runners. At least half of these individuals would soon be on the podium and nearly all of them had taken off significant time or set a new personal record. They trained hard and ran hard. And then there’s me. I always finish a race much later than they do and I’m rarely trying to beat a previous time. It can’t be the focus for me or I would have quit running long ago.

I plop down on the grass next to them, happy to take a load off. A few of them notice me and ask how my run went. Most runners will respond to this question–How was your run?–by sharing their time and whether they were able to shave any time off their personal best. My response is much more general in nature. “I had a great run! I felt good and was happy the whole time.” The group respects this about me; they don’t pry for details.

I’m never all that interested in the awards. It’s not important to me who won, who edged past whom this time, where the winners are from, and all that jazz. So while the awards were going on, I, instead, looked at each of my running club friends and thought of them each as individuals and not, collectively, as “all the real runners.”

Each of them is a real person with a real life and real hopes and dreams and real problems. There have been divorces, heartbreaking moments with children, the loss of jobs, the uncertainty of unemployment, health issues, rehab, losing homes, relocations, unhappy marriages, setbacks, regrets.

Yet they are all here, gathered together in this beautiful place on this beautiful day, making the most of life in a positive, healthy way. They run for themselves but, in the process, run for each other.

And that includes me.

These people have always made me feel welcome and part of the group. The fact that I’m a slower runner and not as committed to it as they are has always been more of an issue for me than for them.

They ask me to run with them.

“Hey, do you want to run Serpents Trail any morning this week?”

“Really? Because I’m going to be slow.”

“Everyone’s slow running uphill on a rocky trail in the dark. It’s the perfect time to run together.”

They invite me to train with them and urge me to give certain races or runs a try.

“Randee, you should do the Imogene Run with us this year!”

“I can’t. There’s a cut off time. I don’t think I can make it. They’d make me turn back.”

“No, no, you’re fine. We know plenty of people who just hike it. We’ll do fun training runs and have a great time. You should join us.”

Some insist on running with me at least every few weeks.

“We should try to do a long run this weekend. I haven’t talked to you in a few weeks and I miss you. We need to catch up."

They work me into their weekly speed trainings, when I get up enough nerve to go. They invite me to their “run and then feast” birthday parties, apparently not concerned that the run will be much slower, much shorter with me in the group. We’ve trained for triathlons together, come together as a team for an adventure race, and kayaked and paddleboarded together. We travel together to runs, meet up for dinner or margaritas, camp, come together for a campfire the night before a race.

We take group photos before and after races. And sometimes during.

These people were there when I went through my divorce and the terrible fallout from that. There for me, as runners, as friends.

They’re my friends. Real friends.

I’m the only one, in this whole bunch, who’s ever thought about excluding me.

These people, these fast, fast runners, the ones I consider to be ”real” runners, they’re nothing but real people. Real people with real lives and real problems. Like me. Real people with a desire to deal with stuff by running and trying to stay healthy. Like me. Real people who want to belong, who want to form relationships and friendships. Like me.

These real runners are just that. Real.

I love these people and I’m grateful for all that they are and all that they’ve done for me. They are the reason that running can be a reality for me, something that I can stick with.

And I’m starting to get it now. I am probably all that for them, too. A real person, with a real life, with real issues. A running friend, a real friend.

I’m real. I run.

And, therefore, that makes me a real runner.


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