Can You Call Yourself an Athlete?

How many races do you have to run to call yourself a runner? How many triathlons until you're a triathlete? How miles before you can proudly call yourself a cyclist?

There is a hesitance in the amateur community about these titles. Many shy away from labeling themselves. This may be due to the wide range of talent normally found at endurance events.

The starting corral at your normal endurance event is an eclectic and varied place. In the front, you have the twitchy guys and gals straight from magazine covers and ads in their high-end, sponsored gear. And in the back the newbies are wondering if they have time for one more Port-a-Potty visit before the gun. Nowhere in any other sport do you see this.

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Sign up for the right 70.3 this year and you could find yourself digging your toes into the beach next to Mr. Yellow Jersey himself, Lance Armstrong. This closeness creates a very intense and stark contrast, the perfect breeding ground for insecurity.

Comparing yourself to others in an event where the finishing times are going to range from two and a half hours all the way to six or seven is always a bad idea. Unless someone is paying you to finish in the top ten, your only competition is that Garmin strapped to your wrist and that voice in your head.

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It's easy to look at someone who has that coveted M-Dot tattoo and a dozen hash marks beneath it and wonder if you belong in the same group as that person. Triathlete? He's a triathlete. I'm just some guy who likes paying for pain a couple of Sundays a year.

Real runners have that oval 26.2 sticker on their car, right? I just ran/walked a few 10Ks. What does that make me?

This idea that there is a distinction between "real" athletes and age groupers playing dress-up is insulting to both parties.

Anyone who completes an endurance race deserves to be called an athlete. Every single person, from first place to last, who crosses the finish line knows the dedication that it takes to prepare to run 26.2 miles, let alone actually do the thing. A person does not wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon or complete a triathlon that day.

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