The Five Stages of a Runner

The following five stages of a runner are taken from: Galloway’s Book On Running. August 1984.

The Beginner.

Stage One- Making the break

For some it is medical advice or family and peer pressure that gets to to make a decision to start running as a means to reduce weight and feel better. It could be that the medical profession has told you that if you do not become active you will suffer medical complaints. This is a difficult stage as the lifestyle that you have feels comfortable and familiar with all its distractions to keep you from going out to run. It is quite difficult to justify going out for a run when the weather is cold and wet, or hot and windy, or even just wanting to lie in bed a bit longer.

You may find that in the beginning your new running addiction is threatening to your less active friends but do not despair as you will make lots of new friends who are just as crazy as you are about this. Do not stress or fear as faltering and starting over again a few times is all part of the process. By building yourself up gradually with frequent walk breaks it will not take long before you are able to run 5 kilometers without stopping, walking or feeling like dying. DO not expect instant results or pain free movement for the first few weeks, as with anything new it takes the body some time to develop and accept this new you.

Gradually your body begins to change and you find that it is easier to run smoothly and feel good. You start to notice your surroundings and how friendly everyone is who run the same routes as you do. Your body starts to feel strong and you feel more energised and at this point you decide if you wish to remain a beginner or become a jogger.

The Jogger

Stage Two- Entering the New World

Once you become a jogger you feel more secure about your running even it it is sometimes hard to start the run, but unlike the beginner you you realise that you too are addicted to this running craze. You may still feel intimidated by the high achiever types who race and do crazy stuff like marathons and ultra marathons. At this point you realise just how important fitness is to your health and well being both mental and physical. It is at this point that you break away from your old habits and set training routines in place to feed your growing running addiction. After most runs you feel good about what you just did and how much you have achieved.  As a beginner you complained about feeling bored whilst running but anymore as you look forward to your daily run. 

A jogger does not worry about having a plan or a goal they just want to go out and run with as much enjoyment as possible. Those who do feel that they need a plan feel they do not know enough to prepare a plan.- Think about a coach-. Most just read an article or listen to a more experienced runner and then follow this for a while which most often leads to injury. -Think about a coach-. This type of approach quite often leads to an injury or frustration when a goal is not achieved. These plans are not individualised or pertinent to the Jogger. 

Most Joggers prefer company and do well when in a group. They still feel a bit insecure when having to run alone. A Beginner hides within the group while the Jogger identifies with the group. A lot of Beginners will do an informal event like a Park run or a 5 kilometer fun run while the Jogger actually enters an official event or uses the local Park run to achieve a particular goal which is not time based but rather finishing without walking or keeping up with another Jogger. It is during this stage a lot of runners decide that they would like to become competitive and move into the next stage.

The Competitor

Stage Three- When Competition is the Main Driving Force

All of us have a competitive streak even if we try and keep it well hidden. If we control this competitive aspect of ourselves then it becomes a great motivator to push ourselves further and faster. If you are not careful and observant this competitive streak can cause you to loose the enjoyment of your running.

You become a competitor when you start planning your running around racing goals. For most of us it starts innocently enough as you begin to wonder how fast you can actually run a particular distance or event. Luckily not all Joggers enter this stage but remain quite happily as Joggers where others skip this stage and move directly into becoming Runners.

If you enjoy been competitive then this is an exciting stage as you get to see juts how fast you can run and just how far you can run or even far and fast. Your running begins to improve due to the fact that you are training more and you are most likely at this stage under the guidance of a mentor or coach or you have developed enough knowledge to plan your own training. 

It is now vitally important that you keep your competitive streak in check as before long you may realise that the enjoyment of running has lost itself in the drive to excel at all costs. If you miss a work out you are depressed and most likely angry that work, family or social got in the way of your training. During this phase you may train alone or look for small groups of better runners to train with so that you can keep getting faster. You choose events that are likely to give you fast times as the terrain is most suitable or the fields are small and have no big challenges from other competitors. 

During this phase you may loose sight of what works as you feel that if a small change in distance or speed gives you success then more distance and more speed will bring more success. You begin to think that what applies to the mere mortals does apply to you as you are a supremely gifted athlete with all the inherent genetics and the will to push yourself. You will continue pushing yourself even if you always feel tired but cannot sleep peacefully. You become difficult and irritable with family and friends. You push too hard and too far causing an injury or illness or worse still over-training which necessitates a break from your training regimen.  

There are lessons to be learnt from competition and fortunately most competitors to do not to push to the extremes to learn them. Pushing through tiredness and discomfort in a race to achieve a new personal best is not only rewarding in itself, but gives you an idea of what you can do in other areas of your life. Sometimes we need to be challenged to discover hidden strengths which help us cope with the stress of daily life. At the same time experiencing some frustration and pain can help us realise our limitations. By struggling we discover a bit more about the person inside us; we can learn from our mistakes and move to new heights.

The Athlete

Stage Four- Being the Best You Can Be

As an athlete, you find more meaning in the drive to fulfill your potential than in compulsively collecting trophies. You finally have a handle on competition, and it is not the only motivation. Being an athlete is a state of mind which is not bound by age, preformance or place in the running pack.

For a competitor, victory and defeat are tied to performance. Times, flat courses, ideal conditions are all important. For the Athlete, victory lies in the quality of effort. When you run close to your potential on a given day, it is a victory. You internalise competition and transcend it, knowing your limits and capabilities. As you compete you breath in the race, vaporise it, absorb what you need and exhale the rest. Running becomes your own work of art.

Competitors look for races they can win while Athletes look for competition, even though they are not intent on a higher ranking or better performance. They thrive on a challenging competition that is run in the best possible way- from the inside out- and they are, not incidentally, rewarded in the long run by faster times. athletes are also found at the back of the pack, or they mat choose smaller races over the big media events because they do not want to feel lost in a sea of humanity. The Athlete knows when to discard the memory of a bad run and how to make small changes to their training in order to see improvement in their performances.

Great Athletes at any level realise that “success” is in the eye of the performer. There can be success in every experience. If you seize upon the positive aspect of each experience you can string together a series of successes that form a pattern of progress.

Some Athletes reach a level of achievement or satisfaction and retire from competition; a few even quit running entirely. Many choose a reduced level of activity, others maintain a fairly high yet sensible level. Many continue to grow and move into the final and most rewarding stage, the Runner.

The Runner

Stage Five- The Best of All Stages

The final stage of the running journey blends the best elements of all the previous stages. The runner balances the elements of fitness, competition, training and social life and blends running with the rest of his or her life. The Runner is a happy person.

As a Runner the primary focus in life is not running. Running is a natural part of your daily life and if you miss a run you ignore it and move on. If scientists announced that running was harmful to you, you would take not note and move on with your daily run. You get so much satisfaction from your running that it is part of who and what you are. You will enjoy running with others but most of your running you will do alone. You appreciate the the peace and inner reflection provided by the solitary run more than you did in the earlier stages. Great satisfaction comes from being able to mold your body into form, and there is art in combining just the right amounts of strength, endurance, form and performance training. A race can be an opportunity to pull out deep hidden strengths. Once you have learnt these things, the joy lies not in the race, but in the running.

As a Runner you experience the enjoyment of each stage and retain the best of them. You can relive the Beginner’s excitement in discovery, appreciate the Jogger’s balance of fitness and enthusiasm, share the Competitor’s ambition, and internalise the athlete’s quest. Having consolidated and balanced all these stages, you appreciate the creative and positive aspects of each and let them enrich your running life.

If this short summary excites you, read Galloway’s Book on Running and Paul Vorwerk’s Second Dimension Of Running.

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