When asked if I'm a runner, I always look away for a moment, and mutter a mild confirmation. We are our actions, and to that extent, I am one. I run, of course; but beyond that, I read blogs and magazines devoted to the sport, from its stars to its shoes. I know the heel/toe drop of most shoes currently on the market, who Killian Jornet and Geoffrey Mutai are, and how to pronounce quinoa. That is to say nothing of my race results, which are a documented reality.
And yet, when asked, I don't say "yes" emphatically. I don't meet the eyes and declare that I am what I am; I don't advertise or proudly endorse this thing that is nonetheless a large part of my life. Customers ask me if I'm racing, and I tell them. If they ask how far, I share that too. When they later ask how I did, I try to talk around my time and place, opting instead for vague descriptors like "I felt good" or "it was a solid effort".
There are stickers now that read 26.2, or even 13.1. You see them on the back of vehicles, indicating that the owner has covered the stated distance on foot. Many of my running friends have them, or similar ultra equivalents. I certainly don't fault people who feel that measure of pride. Running is a powerful statement that you're going to take accountability for your health and fitness, that you're going to do something real and tangible, that you're going to chase the horizon. To some, that is worth sharing. And to be clear: There is nothing wrong with that.
But you will see no stickers on my car. While I do take pride in what I've done, the feeling is personal, bordering on intimate. Running a marathon or an ultra is not a stunt to garner attention or inspire awe; I don't do it to impress anyone. It is wholly about personal satisfaction, about independently doing this thing. To flaunt such a private achievement would feel vulgar.
And yet there is hypocrisy, of course. There is this blog, on which I write occasionally about running itself, and sometimes even about specific races. This is, as best I can explain, the anonymity of the internet. While this is me writing, it is not me standing right in front of you. And while these are my words, this isn't my voice.
But I can't wholly account for it. I can't balance the person who would rather not mention Heartland to people with the guy who wrote about it here, the guy who just mentioned it now. A runner? I suppose so. But human also. And both categories imply foibles that can never entirely make sense.