How To Define Your Inner Athlete

Confession: I’m not a runner, but I am an athlete. And honestly, that confession could end so many ways. I’m an athlete, but there are many things I’m not.

When I chat with folks who are big athletes, I’m often asked what races or triathlons I have coming up. When people outside the fitness scene hear me talk about working out or see my athletic body type, their first question is usually if I do CrossFit. The answers are none, and no. There’s nothing wrong with racing or CrossFit; I’m in complete awe of friends who do both. But for me, the definition of an athlete means something else. 

definition of an athlete

It doesn’t have to start with a track or treadmill

My 5K pace hasn’t dropped below 9:00 in about three years (and I know, because I use Strava and look at all my data). In fact, running three to four miles can be a serious struggle for me. 

Running isn’t the place where I walk away feeling proud of my accomplishments. It’s a tough struggle. I run on occasion mainly because it’s free, you can do it anywhere even when traveling, and from time to time it is rewarded with free ice cream – but it’s usually my fitness of last resort.

The hardest part for me comes with the natural reaction to compare yourself to others. Whether I’m joining friends for a fun run or doing sprints up Cricket Hill with November Project Chicago, it’s hard to feel like you can’t keep up. I find myself posting runs to Strava and calling them “jogs” because I feel like I can’t call a 10-minute pace “running.” I’m a competitive person, and it’s hard to feel like I can’t be the best at something.

Becoming an athlete can happen anywhere, even in a group fitness class

The truth is, I know I’m great at other things. I’m the first to pick up the heaviest set of weights in a circuit training class. I can push through interval training with very little rest and still feel like I can give it my all until the very end. 

In a seriously short amount of time, I went from not being able to ride a bike to becoming a pretty damn good biker who feels totally comfortable doing a 50- or 75-mile ride on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I can come in the top three at Studio Three on the Peloton bike on a good day, and I usually beat lots of the guys in class.

When I hop in the pool or lake, I can throw down some decent mileage without training for it. My body doesn’t love to run, but it carries me through a lot of pretty amazing feats and I’m grateful for it.

definition of an athlete

Just a few days ago, a friend who I have an enormous amount of admiration for was talking about another woman and saying how great she was and how she wanted to be her. And without even thinking, I said, “That’s crazy. You’re a total badass. You shouldn’t want to be anyone but you.” It’s time to give myself that same tough love.

The next time you’re at the gym and the person next to you is keeping up a rep pace that makes you want to give up, remember, you’re an athlete. The next time you’re running with a group and feel yourself slipping to the back of the pack, remember, you’re an athlete. The next time you get passed up biking, or need to call it quits while swimming laps sooner than you anticipated, remember, you’re an athlete. You’re out there, while so many others aren’t, and that’s what makes you an athlete. And a badass one at that.

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About Dani Kruger

As a proud New Englander at heart, Dani loves the outdoors and anything maple-flavored. After a decade in the Midwest, she moved to Seattle where she loves the mild temperatures and mountain views. Dani's competitive nature is no secret, whether she's trying to do yoga at all of the state capitol buildings (23 so far!) or seeing how much vertical she can run each month in the mountains of the PNW. By day, she nerds out behind the computer as a data analyst for a health care consulting firm, where she works to ensure all individuals have timely access to high quality health care services.