When being who you are is all there is to be.
Fat Boy, Soft Tail, Road King: No, those aren’t the nicknames of some of my old motorcycling buddies, although they could be. They are actually the model designations of Harley-Davidsons and they represent more than just a piece of equipment, they are characteristics of the image each hopes to project.
Ever since Marlon Brando burst into the cultural consciousness in “The Wild One”, motorcycles in general, and Harley’s in particular, have been about image. From the outlaw persona of the Hell’s Angels to the inveterate free spirit of Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”, the public has come to look past the person and focused on the image that the machine projects.
Runners, especially those who were a part of the first running boom, understand what the image of a runner is supposed to be. From the tissue paper thin, worn out event t-shirt to the nylon shorts, the old timers knew how a runner was supposed to look, supposed to feel, and supposed to act. And, like they did with the bikers, the public often looked past the real person and saw only a runner.
It’s not so easy anymore. The new rider who shopped online for the lowest interest rate to finance his new Harley and who takes pride in his “American Metal” even though it’s really a global mix of parts, still seeks to project the image of the outlaw, free-spirited biker; at least on the weekends. And there are runners who still feel the need to cling to images that are just as outdated and inaccurate.
Part of the appeal of running is that it is, essentially, an authentic undertaking. Unlike become a biker, there’s no way to buy your way into the community of runners. You either run, or you don’t. You run fast, or you don’t. You run far, or you don’t. Whatever kind of runner you are, that’s the runner you are. Simple. Authentic. A new leather jacket and a temporary tattoo won’t get you in.
And yet I continue to hear the debate about what it means to be a “real” runner. It’s as if we, as a community, have yet to decide on the criteria by which we will know and accept each other. It’s not just the old school runners who are unwilling to acknowledge the fundamental truth that running is running, many new runners fall victim to their own false expectations and definitions.
Part of the problem is that even the word runner doesn’t mean much inside the running community anymore. 2:30 marathoners are runners. 45-minute 5Kers are runners. Someone who runs 100 miles a week is a runner. Someone who runs 6 miles a week is a runner. Runners are runners, run-walkers are runners and, in some cases, walkers are runners.
What does it take to be an authentic runner? It doesn’t take mega-mile weeks. It isn’t about speed or method or style. It isn’t about the shoes or clothes. It isn’t about the image. It’s about knowing that it doesn’t matter how others define running but that running is a way by which we define ourselves.
The truth of the authentic runner can be seen on the streets of small towns and the starting lines of monster marathons. There you will find the runners. There you will find the people who have discovered that running brings them closer to themselves, closer to others, and closer to the truth. There you will find the people who have discovered that being who you are is much more difficult than pretending to be who you are not.
Fat Boy, Soft Tail, and Road King. Come to think of it, those could be the nicknames of some of my running buddies. Authentic runners every one of them.
Waddle on, friends.