With tomorrow being #GlobalRunningDay, we hope this post, by BAMRbassador Rebecca Atkinson, Ph.D., resonates. We know more of you are runners than you think you are!
Back in September 2019, when AMR did a podcast episode about Runner Identity, I was completely enthralled with the topic. Fresh off my own doctoral work in educational leadership, I was intrigued by the guest’s research interests and knowledge on identity. I had worked at a university for 14 years in student development, and throughout my work, my colleagues and I would discuss, plan, and educate on the developmental processes’ college students experience, including the development of their own identity.
According to Psychology Today, “identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self.” They used the word “amalgamation,” as if someone is put together with various bits and pieces. The other key component of their definition is creating “a steady sense of who one is over time.” Each person has more than one identity: An individual has a racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation identity, career identity, and many more. Identities are socially constructed and throughout development they are challenged and questioned, which allows for growth in an individual over time.
Becca, in navy blue, cruising through the Chicago 2022 marathon.
When I first listened to the podcast episode in 2019, I was hoping AMR would give me the answer to the question I’d been contemplating since starting to consistently run in 2016: Am I a runner? Here was a guest who was going to tell me! (Cue Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.”) I finished the episode not convinced I was a “runner,” however I was certainly intrigued to join the researcher in her quest to explore women and their exercise identity. By that point, I had run a few half marathons and two marathons, yet I did not consider myself a runner. I don’t know what was preventing me from owning that identity, but it was not something I would readily admit in any social situation.
Fast forward three years, and AMR re-ran the episode while I was in the midst of training for the Chicago Marathon. My 14-miler that weekend needed a steady stream of conscious “meat” to chew on, and the ep was the perfect thing. Oddly, though, despite being a repeat episode—the same researcher and same guests—something had changed. In me. In my head. Time and consistency in practice: In the intervening three years, I’d been running three to five days a week.
In 2019, my running identity was still in development; by 2022 I felt it, believed it. Running is ingrained in me now. On the podcast, the researcher discusses how our identity is influenced by how others see us. She talks about how her own son sees her as a runner. I can relate: My children have only ever known me as a runner. I started running when they were four and five years old, just when young memories are really taking shape. Their earliest memories are of me going out for runs—or being dragged along to races.
Celebrating her finish in front of The Bean.
If you’ve ever questioned your runner identity, don’t. At this age, you probably don’t question your gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. Those have been with you for so many years, but your runner identity may still be in development. Your runner identity will be challenged—you’ll question the identity because of your pace, walk/run intervals, body shape/size, your injury status, and more. These do not define you as a runner—your consistency to get out there does. That “relentless forward motion” becomes part of your being, your existence, your sense of self. With time, you too will grow into that identity: I know, because I did.