Coach Mike Mead

May 2013

The Three Levels of Running

How serious a runner are you? I got to thinking recently about the various levels in the development of a serious runner. That is, how “in to” the discipline and culture of running is an individual who strives to become a competitive runner.

I’ve never considered myself a die-hard runner from the cultural side, but more from the discipline side of the sport. I believe there are degree levels that one must ascend to reach the nirvana of foot racing. It involves commitment and sacrifice!

There are many degrees, but I’m going to consider three distinct levels. There is varying degrees in-between these levels, but the three I’m pointing out are the major ones.

All runners start out as novices. The “entry level” of running can be exciting and discouraging at the same time. Exciting because of the newness and the potential gains, but discouraging if you lack discipline and motivation. If you are under the age of 20, the motivation to run has many reasons as compared to those taking up runner over the age of 20. The under-20 runner may take up running for the competition, or to find their niche sport, or to attract the opposite sex. I think it is safe to say that most over-20 novice runners are motivated to run for health reasons, like losing weight!

If one stays in running for a short period of time, their motivation and commitment may change (for better or worse) depending on their experiences. One of the first lessons learned with running is one must be committed for the long-term in order to attain realistic goals.

Many aspiring runners weed themselves out in a few weeks or months. They may expect immediate results or lack the discipline to maintain a routine that built on their experiences. That’s true with about anything we set out to do! It tests patience.

Part of running’s entry level is the culture – that is the accessories! Maybe you’re not so disciplined, but you do get some enjoyment from running. That may include the clothing, shoes, the gear, or the racing events. It might also include the notion you can eat more because you are running, or the post-race food and drink, or the pre-race food and drink. “Gee, if I train for a marathon, I can carbo load!”

Once one has trained long enough to get some experience racing different distances, the next level of running is the “buddy-system.” Basically, a runner looks for others who are of a similar ability range to train and race with. The under-20 folks have high school and college teams to gravitate to, but the over-20 crowd may has a tougher time finding a group of runners or a running club to associate with to provide more training challenges and support.

It is particularly challenging for those who have commitment or discipline issues. But having a training group can provide reinforcements! This level may be more sociable, but it may be a little less into the “accessories” as previously noted. They’re not as much obsessed with having the latest running shoe or gadget as they are with improving their running game.

The ultimate level of running that one can attain is “Zen running.” At this level, discipline and commitment are mastered. A Zen runner does not need a support group for training. They will likely have a coach or mentor to guide them, otherwise they can train and race without potentially being held back by others who do not share their same passion, discipline, commitment, or ability level.

The discipline is such that the Zen runner closely monitors his or her training, rest, nutrition and social life. Heck, they will likely not have a social life, unless you count the pre- or post-race gatherings! But to the Zen runner, running is their social life. When it comes to cultural side, the Zen runner is focused on the next major race and is only concerned with the necessities that will aid them in reaching their goal. “A good pair of trainers and the wind to my back!”

I hope this got you to thinking about YOU as a runner. How serious are you? What are your needs? What is your level? What is your motivation to run? Good questions to ask yourself the next time you find yourself in the middle of 16 x 400m repeats and you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”