Growing up, I loved watching sport on the telly, and my favourite events were the running competitions. I always had boundless admiration for these athletes, and I guess it was back then that my own love for running started.
I have often philosophised about what defines an athlete. Obviously, I’ll never join the ranks of the elite athletes that compete for medals in major sporting events, but I think (at least, I hope) we all agree that you do not have to be an elite to be considered an athlete. On the other hand, does everybody that takes part in a running event automatically qualify? Some might argue that everyone who finishes a marathon is an athlete, but what about shorter events? Does running a 5k qualify you? What if you run/walk it? A work colleague of mine once took part in a triathlon. I never managed to get any sort of information about it out of him— he probably doesn’t even know the distance himself, but ever since crossing the finishing line he’s called himself a triathlete. The fact that he has hardly left the sofa in the years since hasn’t changed his mind.
Without criticizing anyone, I don’t think of someone who just about managed to finish one single sport event as an athlete. I don’t even think that slowly crawling towards the end of a marathon automatically makes you an athlete, though I certainly don’t think it is the finishing time that counts. In my personal opinion, a healthy 35 year old who grumblingly left his armchair to slug his way to a 6-hour finish in a once-off marathon is not an athlete; but, the 70+ year old granny who trained for the event and managed to overcome age and health issues to do the same event in the same time is one. Of course, others might disagree.
I think what makes an athlete is the state of mind. Wiktionary defines an athlete as a person who actively participates in physical sports, especially track and field sports. If you show an interest in a running event, are training for it and try to do it to the best of your ability, whatever level that may be, you can call yourself an athlete, and that’s something to be proud of.