"Hey runner boy!" Whenever a conversation with a few of my friends begins that way, I am certain that my chosen activity/pastime is about to be dissed in some non-runner sort of way. It happens all the time, though and it actually makes me chuckle a little bit.
I think "runner boy" is actually a compliment from those outside the circle of runners. "Runner boy" indicates that I've been identified with an activity that many do not seem to understand but do accept as a part of my self-identity. "Forrest" has also been used more than once (as in Gump). I like that one, too. Indicates I am known for my tenacity.
There are really two classes of runners – those who are people who run, and those who are runners. The difference? It's really about how we view ourselves and how running plays into our daily lives. My college roommate used to say, "I run so I can eat." He was an eater with a running habit, I suppose. And boy, could he eat! I guess running 80 miles a week would make anyone hungry.
"People who run" usually run in order to facilitate some secondary purpose. Whether they are training for a bucket list item (like a marathon or one of those fancy mud run events) or trying to keep the weight of adulthood under control, running for them is a means to another end. This group probably would not appreciate being called "Forrest."
The "runner" group, however, tends to get a lot of their identity from running and the entirety of the sport. These folks watch Flotrack videos of track meets, can quote stats from the top men and women runners in the country, and subscribe to 17 monthly running magazines. Okay, maybe not 17. To them, "Forrest" is the moniker for which they strive.
Whether you identify more with group one or group two (or consider yourself a non-runner), do know that the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle of those who amble down the road purposelessly and those who sleep with their racing flats on their feet. What we do isn't completely who we are, nor is "just participating" an indictment of our level of commitment.
There are degrees of "Forrest-ness." Much as there is a fine line between healthy obsession and an unhealthy one, "Forrest-ness" can manifest itself in really bad ways. I have a friend who asked his bride-to-be to push their wedding ceremony back a few hours because of a race. And the invitations had already gone out! No, it wasn't me.
The cult classic running book "Once a Runner" by John Parker follows a fictional runner to whom running was the end-all, be-all of his existence. Living a Spartan life, training for Olympic glory, it is a book that anyone who has ever seen themselves as a runner will partially fantasize about living that life. But for someone who just runs, it really has little meaning other than a pretty well-written book about "those who take it too seriously." Non-runners will head straight for the latest Doris Kearns Goodwin or Tom Clancy.
Page 2 of 2 - I started running in 1978. During those 35+ years, I've been asked and attempted to answer the question, "So, why do you run, Shearer?" more times than miles I've run. And I've really no idea how to answer. Really. The activity itself has become a part of my being and transcends the action. I've long passed the point of questioning purpose. But I also think I've kept it (mostly) on the healthy side.
Be confident in how you approach running. After all, it's truly how YOU approach running and no one else can dictate otherwise. So when next we meet on the roads, tracks or trails (or malls or grocery stores or restaurants), feel free to call me "runner boy." And if you like, I will respond with "Hey Forrest"…. Or not.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer.