We are our definitions: I am a runner (analyzing everyday rhetoric)

How we act and the way we view the world is strongly determined by our definitions. These definitions change and develop as we go through new experiences, thus causing us to broaden our minds and grow as people.

Definitions matter
Ready to go running.

When I was out riding my bike earlier this week, I rode past someone who was running along the street in the opposite direction. He had an expression of complete focus on his face and didn’t see me go by. I smiled anyways when we passed each other and as I went by, the thought that passed through my mind (the way random thoughts so often do when I imagine speaking to strangers that I pass on the street) was “Hi! I’m a runner, too!”

It occurred to me as I continued on that I hadn’t even had to think twice about calling myself a runner. These days I naturally consider myself as one. Three weeks ago I ran in a 6k race, and this weekend I’ll be participating in a 9k race, but that is not why I would call myself a runner.

I have given myself the label of “runner” because it’s something that I have started to do more frequently, a couple times a week, and it’s something which I genuinely enjoy doing. Even if I were not currently preparing for a race, I would still be out there jogging.

How the way we define ourselves helps to shape who we are

I have discussed definitions before and about what makes us call ourselves an athlete. At the time of that discussion, I did not define myself as an athlete. I called myself athletic, but the word “athlete” was too intimidating for me. These days, I believe that if we are doing something on a consistent basis, if we love to do it, and if, therefore, we “own it” as MizFit remarked in the comments of the previous discussion, then we become that. Whether you can run for 0.2 miles or 20 miles (like this impressive blogger!), if you own it, you are it. You choose your own definitions. You choose who and what you are.

Changing our definitions can even change our capabilities. If, for example, I were to call myself vegetarian, I would probably be more active in trying to avoid meat. Because I do not give myself that definition at this time (“flexitarian” or “almost-vegetarian” would be the more accurate term), I do not feel compelled to adhere to the strict boundaries of the definition of “vegetarian.” However, referring to myself as an almost-vegetarian often makes me think twice about eating meat. The label that I have given myself means that I eat less meat than I would if I called myself an omnivore. We feel the need to live up to the expectations of our definitions. It is through definitions that we figure out which paths in life we want to take.

Calling myself a runner gives me added motivation to continue running after I am finished my race. It makes me want to keep at it so that I do not lose that label: we are what we define ourselves as.

Me? In addition to writer, editor, runner, health advocate, and traveler—among others—I’m calling myself an athlete.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this! I have a lot of the same voices in my mind, and I like to say hello to other athletes! You are doing really well with your running! I always looked at 5 miles as the minimal distance for being a serious runner, and you have already passed that. I think I read a huge study out of Harvard years ago where somewhere around 45 miles a week (5 a day) was where the maxi mun benefit was found. Less was not as good, and higher caused more injuries. Of course it’s a study of many, not the individual, but I think it’s good information to help us find our best individual workout distance. Enjoy the 9K, Sagan 🙂

  2. You are definitely an athlete!! For awhile I was intimidated to call myself that, too, but then I think about all of the things my body can do – and has done – physically. I always thought of athletes having to excel or get paid for their sport, but so many of us are athletes because we put so much sweat and passion into our sport!

    Good luck on the 9K, Sagan!

  3. Dr. J- 45 miles a week sure is is a lot… don’t think I’ll make it quite there but I’m working my way up!

    Holly- I wonder what the “athlete” ratio is of sweat to passion? 🙂

  4. This is a great concept, one I am going to start practicing from now. Thanks Sagan x

  5. […] we’re talking about definitions, so I thought I’d bring the conversation over here. Check out the post there to discuss how you define yourself in terms of fitness (me, I’m calling myself a runner and an athlete these […]

  6. Of course you’re a runner, my dear. OWN IT!

    Great post. 🙂

  7. Just to clarify the Harvard study, Sagan, they found that 4500 calories of working out per week was optimum. That can be 45 miles of running (45 X 100 cal.), or any other way. I suspect you come close to that if not already there 🙂

  8. Sagan, thanks for mentioning me, and I’m so glad you did so that I could find this blog. Though I’m much more a mathematician than a writer, I find the study of language and communication, with all its logic and order, fascinating.

    Interestingly, though you use me as your upper limit example of an athlete, I ask myself these same questions about identity. For the longest time I didn’t call myself a runner; I didn’t even feel like one. When I lined up at the starting line of marathons, I felt like I was a sort of a guest partaking in the sport of others. And “athlete” sounds great in my blog title, but I still question even that when I compare myself, for example, to those who play sports in college or other high levels.

    Really, I think a lot of it comes down to the people with whom you surround yourself, and not just physically. Since I’ve started blogging and interacting with so many others who are into running and fitness in general, I have no problem with these titles. And I’m glad you don’t either. Really, step back for a second. Who the heck runs nine kilometers, not because they have to, but because they want to? Walk up to someone on the street and ask them if they would ever think about doing such a thing, and most likely they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. You’re a runner, and an athlete.

  9. Berni- excellent!

    Zandria- thanks 🙂

    Dr. J- ooh that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification! And I think I do.

    Matt- that’s funny! It really depends on our perspective, doesn’t it? You’re right, too, about interacting with other people who are into fitness… it seems to give us more courage to step up and, as Zandria so aptly puts it, OWN IT.

  10. Nice post, Sagan. It is so true that we choose our own definitions. It’s just a matter of actually stepping up to own them.

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