Most new runners I’ve met fall into one of two categories:  The Reluctant Runner and The Overzealous Runner.   Much like the kids from the right and wrong side of the tracks, these folks begin their journeys as runners from very different places.  But most of the time, they end up on the same path.

The Reluctant Runner isn’t quite sure if they’re going to make it.  Burdened with a Not So Fit body, or the knowledge that they’ve never been particularly athletic, they’re trying the sport on for size.  They throw on a pair of old cross trainers and whatever clothes they can find, and they quietly leave their homes under the cover of darkness, making sure no one sees that they are about to go for a jog.

They don’t tell many people about this new venture, and if they do, they’re humble.  They’re not quite sure they’ll stick with it, so as few people as possible know about “the jogging”.  They start running, and they’re not sure if it’s for them.  It’s a lot of work.  It hurts at first.  It’s hard to tell when it’s going to get any better.  And so, the Reluctant Runner runs, until he hits the point of no return.

The Overzealous Runner, on the other hand, begins his first jog as if he is attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  He might be dressed in all the right clothes, have the snazziest shoes he could find (though not necessarily the best ones for him), and have told everyone he knows that he’s running a marathon this year.  He sets out to beat his body into submission, and moves forward with the certitude of someone who has full faith in their ability to meet their goals.  And so, the Overzealous Runner runs, until he hits his point of no return.

The characterizations are overstatements, of course.  But frequently, I find that of the new runners I meet, it’s the Reluctant Runners who tug at my heartstrings.  They’re the runners I want to help, because they really are not sure if their bodies can do what their minds want done.   They pick it up, but they’re not passionate about it.  Until, one day, they are.  Until the day when their run gets easier, and their stride picks up and they find they can run not one mile, but one and a half.  And then, one day, they can run two miles.  And some day, they’re running a 5k or a 10k, and you know when you see them that they never, ever believed they’d do it. 

The Overzealous Runner, on the other hand, is typically a little more fit – or was, at one point in their life.  They know what their body is capable of, because the body has performed for them before.  It doesn’t matter that the performance was 20 years ago as a high school athlete – despite the lack of activity in the past 20 years, the Overzealous Runner expects great things from his body, and dammit, it’s going to deliver.

And, almost inevitably, the poor Overzealous Runner ends up hurt.  He has added too much mileage, too soon.  He moves at a pace which looks admirable, but which shreds the tendons in his feet.  He is plagued by a tight ITB or shin splints.   He’s frustrated.  But he’s an athlete, so he talks to a coach, or a doctor.  He rests, and he stretches, and he does his recovery work.  And before he knows it, he’s back on track, running the 5k or the 10k just as he thought he would.

Both of these runners end up in the same place – they just take a different path to get there.  For these runners, how they approach each step begins from a place of confidence.  The Reluctant Runner’s confidence is typically low.  The Overzealous Runner’s is typically high.  But note the conclusion: both of them end up at the finish line.  They just took a slightly different path to get there.

Not surprisingly, I’m a Reluctant Runner.  I never had the endurance, or the speed to consider myself a runner.  In fact, though I loved soccer as a kid, I didn’t even attempt to try out for the high school team because my dad didn’t think I could handle the morning conditioning runs.  That self-doubt carried with me to college, where I eschewed all forms of athletics.  But at some point, I decided I might be able to try this running thing.  And eventually, I hit my own point of no return.

If you had told me, ever, that by the age of 34 I would have completed 12 half marathons, I would have laughed at you.   But that’s what being a Reluctant Runner has given me – some endurance, some strength, and some knowledge that my body is far better at moving me along than I ever could have known.

Whichever category you fall into, it’s important to remember only one thing:  your body is capable of amazing things.  Give it the time, and respect, to catch up to your mind (and your heart) and your finish line will be waiting for you.

See you on the path….

5 thoughts

  1. I am most deffinately a reluctant runner. I took a 5 week class that ends with a 5k (Friday!) to help me be accountable to giving it a try. I’m not sure I could have stuck with it had it not been for the class I paid for. The instructor started us out and it was too hard for me. I kept at it until week3 when I could hardly get out of bed. Guess couch potato means something different to different people. Regardless, I backed off on her speedwork, am working on the C25K (week2) and am looking forward to my first run/walk race in two days!

  2. It’s hard to stay motivated when your ass is getting kicked every week, right? I think a lot of first time runners think that they have to kill themselves to get something out of it – but the reality is that if you slow down, you’ll enjoy it MUCH more, and you can get faster later…

    Congrats to you for signing up for the program, and finding a program that fitst for you – and GOOD LUCK! on the 5k!!!!! When it gets hard, just keep your chin up and keep taking in the scenery – makes you realize how far you’ve come!


  3. I think I’m a hybrid… I’m a Reluctant Runner but took 6 months to go from non-runner to completing an ultra marathon. Up until I was standing on the starting line, I didn’t really think I was going to do it – and then I did… so I think it might be possible to be a bit of both 🙂

    1. Candice,
      I’m with you – I think, in fact, there are hybrids…none of us is really “all or nothing”, right? I can’t believe that you went from non-runner to Ultra girl – that’s AMAZING. What are you training for now?

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