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How do You Define Athlete?


How do you define athlete? My answer may surprise you.

One of my clients is a CES runner, and she was telling me how awesome it was to read my recap of my race because it reminded her that we (the coaches) are also athletes, that we have goals, and that we have to work hard, too. That we (coaches) have goals. That we have to train and fight similar fights as the rest of the world. Goodness knows that I have fought plenty of them. 

But her words struck me. You are an athlete. But am I?

How do you define athlete? What is the definition of athlete, and why does it matter for how you understand yourself and your fitness journey? The answer might surprise you!

I still very much self identify as a runner, but I haven’t been thinking of myself as an athlete.

I thought of myself as an athlete last year. Even when I wasn’t training for the Chicago Marathon and was coaching others (and learning the difference between marathon coaching and marathon training), I still considered myself an athlete. But this year, as I’ve been fighting with my body to come back from my sacral stress fracture (which is very much a fight, let me tell you), I haven’t considered myself an athlete. Have you seen my new Stress Fracture Free Running Program announcement??

But why? Why am I not an athlete?

Is it because I didn’t have a specific race on the calendar? Well, I kind of did–I had planned on a few half marathons and 10ks.

Is it because I didn’t have a long term goal, one that would take me into next year on the calendar? It is true–when I ran Chicago last year, Boston 2016 was on the brain, and now that I am letting Boston Marathon 2017 registration pass me by for long term personal reasons (Congrats to all who are going!), I don’t have any long term competition-related plans…. Does that mean I am not an athlete?

Do you need a goal race, a goal competition, to be an athlete?

What makes someone a Runner?

I’m going to start my consideration of what makes an athlete with the question of what makes a runner:

If you run for more than because you “have to,” but rather because you want to, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter if you compete, if you run a little or a lot, if you take walking breaks, if you listen to music or the sound of your footfalls; if you run because it completes some part of you in a way that you can’t explain, you are a runner.

And you may not even know it yet. 

So, in the Suz-tionary, what is the definition of Athlete?

According to ye old Merriam-Webster (good people), an athlete is “someone who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise; also someone who is trained or skills in exercises, sports or games requiring strength, stamina, or agility.”

Well, that is all fine and great, but I would say that it goes a bit deeper, at least for today’s understanding. The word “athlete” obviously had a deeper meaning historically, as the word in Middle English, Latin, and Ancient Greek meant person vying for a prize, from athlon (prize, contest).

So I would take MW’s definition and raise them one, saying that an athlete is “someone who is trained or skills in exercises, sports or games requiring strength, stamina, or agility with the intentions of applying said skills in pursuit of a prize or in a contest, regardless of the internal or external nature of that contest.” 

MW’s definition of athlete is a bit shorter and easier to remember, but whatever.

The reason that I include the “regardless of the internal or external nature of that contest” is that I firmly believe that you can compete with yourself. To me, an athlete is someone who seeks progression and improvement. And that progression or improvement may or may not result in an organized race. 

So am I an athlete?

According to my definition, I am, at the moment… sort of an athlete. 

I definitely was the day of my half marathon. I definitely still had my competitive edge as I plowed down that last stretch! That was Suz the Athlete. I needed to feel like Suz the Athlete again. Suz who could blow her own mind, but who knows that she is capable of it. 

Feeling mighty successful kid image

So, this past Saturday–was that Suz the Runner? Suz the Athlete? And which one do I want to be?

I don’t know. Suz the Runner has less pressure on her to perform. Suz the Athlete has more drive to fulfill all the aspects of her training–the prehab, the cross training, etc. Suz the Runner can have a bit more “fun,” but also the likelihood of getting hurt if she isn’t careful and doesn’t keep after her prehab (ahem, these exercises). Suz the Athlete does a bit more business, a little less work, and perhaps even a little less risk of injury because of her hyper-vigilance, but also more risk of injury because of the increased stress on her body. 

There are parts of me that want one or the other.

Can I be Suz the Athletic Runner? 

Can I be just competitive enough with myself that I can continue to love the run but also do the things that are necessary of me–the cross training, the strength training, the injury prevention–to keep myself happy AND healthy?

Are you an athlete? The answer might surprise you! #runchat #fitfluential #sweatpink Click To Tweet

What do you think? Do you agree with my definition of athlete?

How do you see yourself?

Can an athlete merely compete with themselves? Or does an athlete need external competition?

I am linking up with myself, Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPatty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka and Angela for Food and Fitness Sunday. Also linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud!

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