I participated in a 5K race in May that was for women. In fact, it was targeted at women with children, and children of the women with the children, or something like that. One of the race bulletins had an editorial defense of the racers. It hinged on whether or not you could call yourself a “runner.” Apparently, some troll decided that if you don’t run a consistent eight minute mile, you are “just a jogger.” Troll/Trollina felt so strongly about it that he/she (there are female troglodytes, too) posted it the discussion board for a race for mothers, where it is a given that many (really, most) of the participants will not meet that standard, being of a certain age/weight/time constraint for training.
I brought it up with my brother, who was a college level distance runner in the late eighties. The eighties were really the high point for the sport, when people like Alberto Salazar were household names and still competing, and book after book was being published on why everyone should be out pounding the pavement. I said, spreading my hands out as far apart as I could, palms facing outward, “When you were running back in the day, it was running over here (waggle left hand), and jogging over there (waggle right hand).” My brother started laughing and said, “Yeah, you didn’t even do those on the same day.”
The dictionary definitions are pretty clear. Jogging, you are in contact with the ground with at least one foot at all times. This came from something HORSES DO. Running, you have both feet off the ground for an instant during your stride. (As an aside, why aren’t we calling it galloping, or cantering? I digress.) That clears it up! Just get a slow-motion film of yourself on the run/jog, and see if you are indeed leaving the surface of the earth for an instant. When the Running Police ask to see your Runner Cred, you can flash a frame that shows you off the ground. I tested this on my last long run, which I can tell you was nowhere near eight minute miles. I felt like I left the ground. According to the dictionary, I was running. But it is never so simple, is it?
How many sports are there that have a whole different name for people who do it worse than other people? The only one I could think of was golf, where someone who does it badly is called a “duffer.” I guess this means that they don’t take it seriously enough. Even then, it’s not really ok to call someone else a duffer, unless they admit to it first, because they may be taking it very seriously. A slow swimmer isn’t called a “bobber” or somesuch nonsense. An amateur hockey player isn’t called an “ice monkey,” though that is kind of funny, and if you start saying that I want royalties. Why does a large chunk of the running population feel like they are not qualified to call themselves runners?
People seem to invent thresholds to cross before they call themselves runners. One way that people say they “knew” is an injury. The best of these is the Lost Toenail. If you run around the county playing Hansel and Gretel with shed toenails, then you are qualified as a runner. I will probably never pass this test. I ran over six miles on Sunday, and my toenails are just fine. Sadly, not one is turning black or falling off. As an extension of the injury theory, if you have an injury and run anyway, then you are a runner. Most people would say that is courageous, even if it is stupid, but it’s not some sort of game of chicken to see who has the biggest bruises or tornest ACL. If you want to compete with the other 12-year-old adults with injury stories, you go ahead, but stop using that measuring stick on the rest of us. If you are in it FOR the pain, they have another name for that too. It starts with “m” and ends with “asochist.”
Mileage? Do you have to run a certain distance before you are a runner? Do you have to run it all at once? How about your shoes? Maybe if I buy a really expensive pair of shoes, people will recognize that I am a runner. And a cute little running skirt thingy. And a Garmin. Where does the jogging stop, and the running begin—when your credit card is maxed out, or when you are so loaded down with gear that you can’t actually run anymore anyway?
As a last problematic touch, I usually walk part of my training runs, and my races, since I am telling the truth here. Jeff Galloway, author of many fine books about running, walks during marathons. My primary goal, as someone with a couple of weak mechanical points, is to live to run another day. Some days, this means walking through the potholey patch, or down a steep hill. Did I go for a run if I walked at all? It is super fantastic to be proud that you ran a 10K without walking or resting. That speaks to your conditioning, mental fortitude, biomechanics, etc… It is just as cool to plan to rest along the way, but does that make you “just a jogger?”
The last thing that I see in this is a question of attitude. I think the assumption is that if you are not running as hard as you can (defined by Trollina as eight minute miles), then you are not an athlete. Only athletes are runners. The simple-minded majority is a pack of joggers, idiotically smiling their way through without a thought to how damned seriously they ought to be taking this. Check the dictionary again, and it turns out that an athlete is “a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength.”  Running a mile qualifies, even if you are wearing a wig and a tutu and singing the national anthem the whole time. In my opinion, that qualifies even more. The dictionary does not say, “and you have to be a certain amount of good at it, or buzz off.”
Since this is so confusing, and so poorly defined, I have come up with a couple of solutions.
Solution One: Let’s just make up a new word for all the people in-between. Enter: Rogging! If you are running part of the time, or all of the time, but you just don’t feel like the real runners will let you in their club, you are a rogger! Go rogging with pride. Get a shirt that says, “I’m a rogger!” Start a rogging club. When people ask you what it means, just tell them that you don’t want to make the more elite amateur runners uncomfortable by including yourself in their club without permission.
Solution Two: If you are intentionally moving faster than you walk, you are a runner. You are running. You run—and I am damn proud of you for it. Keep on running, and running, and running…
 Merriam-Webster iPhone App. How the hell do you reference that? Ummmm…latest download? Version number (which I can’t find, anyway). Let’s just agree that I don’t steal stuff, even from the dictionary.
 You can unintentionally move faster than you can walk. This can be accomplished by falling off a cliff, or being hit by a car, or many other things that should be avoided.
A minor quibble. In baseball, there is a word for people who generally play the sport worse than anyone else. These people are called “Chicago Cubs.”
Or “Rebecka.” That one’s used for a lot of sports, come to think of it.