Your Distance Does Not Define You

“That’s the kid’s race.”

That’s what a friend of mine heard from a fellow runner recently at an event of several ultra distances. The runner was talking about the shortest distance on offer – the 50k distance my friend was about to run – as if it was somehow not worth doing, something easy a kid could handle.

My friend described the atmosphere at the race as mirroring that person’s opinion. She felt like the focus for the organizers and support staff were the longer distances. She also detected a dismissive attitude toward runners who were running at a slower pace than required to make the cut off for their distance. Afterward she got in touch with some other people who had run and heard the same opinion from them. One person told her it had made running less fun for her. Someone else said if it was their first racing experience, they would have quit, thinking it was an elitist sport.

Your distance does not define you. Why every runner deserves respect, regardless of the distance they run or race.

When did the longest distance become the one that was somehow more important? I have only raced one 5K in my life and I actually think the training for that distance is more stressful and harder than the training required for a marathon. Give me a half marathon over a 10K any day as well – those shorter distances are hard for me. But that’s my personal opinion – it would never occur to me to denigrate anyone based on their distance choice. Your distance does not define you as a runner – the fact that you go out and run defines you as a runner.

I understand the pride and sense of achievement that comes with each new distance milestone. I vividly remember each milestone in my running career and how exciting it was to reach a mileage that I either wasn’t sure I would be able to complete, or had never imagined possible. Most runners I know, though, don’t think less of runners who take on shorter distances as they themselves increase their own distance.  From what I know of the ultra running community, it seems to be a very inclusive and encouraging group, which is why when someone has an experience like this, it is so jarring and unexpected. 

I can’t imagine where the attitude that a shorter distance was “the kids’ race” came from. Maybe that runner was poorly expressing their pride in their own distance achievements. Maybe she was joking and unaware she was being overheard. But no one deserves to have their own significant running achievement – whether it’s running for 20 minutes without stopping, or running a 100 mile race – to be disparaged. 

It made me think of one of my favorite quotes about what makes a runner – and no, it’s nothing to do with your distance.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.” – John Bingham

Have you ever encountered an attitude about what distance someone runs?



  1. Oh hell no!!!! That is so awful on so many levels and I just cannot wrap my head around that kind of thinking. We are all runners, no matter distance, PACE, TIME, experience – nada. Why take something that is so hard to begin with and make it harder? It used to be that the running community was the best thing about the sport. Shame on those runners, giving us a bad name!

    PS – 5k and 10k distances are SUPER hard for me too and I’ll take 13.1 any day!
    Allie recently posted…The Rundown – Thick SkinMy Profile

  2. I’ll take a half over a 5K and a 10K… I don’t know about a full. My 5K pace and my half pace are not different…. it takes me a few miles to get going, and I sprinting a 5K is so hard for me….. We are all runners. I don’t think the distance defines you as a runner, but I do think that different distances teach you different things about yourself. recently posted…BoyMy Profile