How I learned to stop worrying and love being a “runnerd”
Runnerd or space alien?
November 10th, 2011
04:19 PM ET

How I learned to stop worrying and love being a “runnerd”

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes,” Thoreau famously said in his book "Walden." Now, I didn’t want to become a Transcendentalist, I was just looking for motivation in my quest to become a runner.

I also wanted to be true to my own inner geek. As a former band nerd (I was a Drum Major!) and lapsed comic book geek, I knew what it was like to have an all-consuming niche that opened the doors to a community of passionate and like-minded folks.

This time, though, I wanted a hobby that would help me lose some weight in the process. If running fit the bill it would be a win-win, right?

What’s in a name?
I should acknowledge that, although geeky, runners self-describe themselves as “runnerds.” Now, I’m intimately familiar with the subtle differences between “nerds” and “geeks.” Let’s just say I’m blurring the line of scrimmage a little bit.

Kate Zimmer, the Chicago runner who popularized the runnerd hashtag on Twitter, sums up the name:

#Runnerds started as a joke in a conversation between Desiree Koh and I on Twitter.  John Pham had coined the term in one of his early YouTube running videos and we thought it would apply to all the running conversations Des and I would have on Twitter.  I created the hashtag joking that I was going to start a Twitter list and the next thing I knew, people were sending me requests to be on the list. [It] has been huge!”

By the numbers
Apart from my wallet and my keys, my iPhone has a permanent place in my daily routine (and my pockets). I always know where it is and I couldn’t imagine running without it. What if I had some kind of accident out on the road and need to call someone? It seemed only logical to get a running app to help me run since I’d have my iPhone handy.

And with the swarm of apps for smartphones that help you quantify and qualify your every country mile, Runnerds have taken to measuring themselves in a variety of ways, most of them involving time, speed and pace. Runners are also keen at doing conversions – speed (8 mph for instance) into pace (7:30 per mile) – when talking to other runnerds.

Once you know the numbers from a few of your runs, it’s hard not to think about the miles and minutes as they go running by. Part of the enjoyment of being a runnerd is tracking progress, regression to the mean or just plain delta. Doing math in your head while you try to keep your pace up and your cadence steady is a badge of geek honor.

If you build it, they will come
Of course, tracking and cataloguing numbers is hardly the exclusive province of geeks — fans of fantasy football and MP3 music aficionados have websites and apps that let them do the same. All of these numbers games have laid the groundwork for the burgeoning online community of current and would-be Runnerds.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agrees. He made running a centerpiece of his keynote speech at this year’s Facebook f8 developer conference. In the context of explaining the new Facebook Timeline, Zuckerberg showed off RunKeeper and the Nike+ app and how both these services help connect runners.

You can’t get much geekier than Mark Zuckerberg, but if he’s too young or contemporary, there’s always Eric Idle of Monty Python fame or Drew Carey, who wore black, horn-rimmed glasses in the '90s without irony, as excellent examples of runnerds.

Online messageboards like and are oases for like-minded Runnerds, gathering cross-country-trekkers and track-sprinters from around the world for animated discussions about technique, favorite routes, and their personal bests. And these communities have, in turn, birthed a geeky language for Runnerds all its own.

Ever heard of a Fartlek? Me either, until I started running. And what geeky activity is complete unless you have three-letter acronyms to bandy about with your fellow geeks? I was very excited runners used LSD as one of their TLAs plus now I can work VO2, MHR, GMP, MHR and ITBS into casual conversation.

Kate Zimmer has her own take on this growing geek community: “I think most runners are Runnerds at heart,” she said. ”Every runner has their favorite running clothes and shoes, favorite run routine and route, race distance, philosophy toward running, views on technology and the language – that is a nerdiness in its own right.”

Costume or uniform?
The final, and most crucial, goalpost on my descent into running geekdom was my choice of apparel. My initial runs utilized gear I already had, but as I began logging more runs and miles I realized an investment in running technology was crucial. After doing tons of research on running shoes I bought two pair: one for everyday running and one for “foot strengthening”.

I’ve also invested in some rather revealing shorts that are just as much a visual cue that I’m a geek as Steve Urkel’s high-waisted, high water pants were. Part of the joy of being a runnerd is dressing the part no matter what kind of stares and commentary you get from passersby (or, more correctly, those who are passed by as I run past).

And so I set out, clad in short shorts, brightly-colored shoes and earbuds to conquer the universe, one mile at a time. I am a runnerd.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. walleye125

    Trail Runners on the other hand are the opposite of runnerds

    November 14, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  2. BRBSanDiego

    I live in San Diego near the beach in north county. The triathlete surge has turned the coast highway into a contant stream of runners and cyclists. They don't stay in their "special" lane, they run lights, weave out into traffic, and generally make traffic a mess with their rudeness. We should go back to the "no bike lane" arrangement; take your chances like everyone else – you are NOT special except in your own mind. These are motorist lanes with people going to work or doing business; they were not designed for your professional workout or leisure. Go ride around a school track or on lightly traveled roads – stay off the coastal access roads because they are narrow and very busy with vehicular traffic i.e. cars and trucks. On the positive sign, this fad will pass like most others. Lance ain't riding anymore.

    November 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Texan

    Ummm....ok....this article is written to tell you that being a nerd is ok? Wasn't it always ok?

    November 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  4. depth_eternal

    I wasted a couple mins of my life reading this. This article was pretty lame! Really CNN...GO HARD OR GO HOME!

    November 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  5. Band teacher

    As a band teacher (and former drum major!), I ask you to refrain from perpetuating the "band nerd/geek" label. You get the "you're not helping" award when it comes to reducing bullying and stereotypes that young people deal with in school.

    November 12, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Seth Miller

      I'll respectfully disagree with your comment. If I call myself a band geek, I own it and no one can/will (or did previously) hurt me by saying it.

      I claim it, own it & celebrate it just as I do my runners status.

      This blog is a testament to te fact that loving something so intensely is a positive and not a negative.

      The best thing I could ever do is call myself band geek. It makes me feel good.

      I'm a runnerd too.

      November 12, 2011 at 9:02 am |
      • charles

        i agree, for so many reasons. especially now that the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' are transcending their negative connotations. being in band, especially in HS, means actually belonging to and being a part of something, which is something that all of those hecklers don't have.

        November 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  6. NoDoubt

    I'd love to start running. I just don't know how people can get into the mental zone to do it.

    November 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • ree123


      I think it's pretty rare for a beginner runner to get into a zone right away. For me it took about 2 months of running 3 days a week, no excuses, before I wanted to run. In my opinion run/walk programs are the way to start, but it wasn't until I could run at least 15 minutes without walking that I could get into the zone. So, if you'd love to run and have the health to do it, go for it. Just keep in mind it may be just 'grunt work' for awhile.

      November 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Seth Miller


      Having an app to help motivate you helped me. I liked the fact that most of the free versions of popular running apps will speak data to you (speed, pace, time, distance) every minute if you need them to.

      They're are also a few "couch to 5k" training apps that will help you run/walk from a point of not being active to completing your first 5k.

      Hope this helps.


      November 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • charles

      you just start doing it, then you do it again, and again and again and again. your zone finds you. eventually, just thinking about running puts you into your zone, and you run just to get that feeling again.

      November 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  7. larry5

    From the70's thru the 90's I ran most days often to and from work and would rack up about 100 to 140 miles a week. At the time I did not know that what I was doing was anything special. When I left the company they threw me a big going away party. It was the first time I'd been to a social event with co-workers in 30 years and the first time I'd ever had an alcoholic drink. I did not know this was weird either until at the end of the party my boss pointed it out to me. I guess that I've lived in a different world than most people and did not know it. Health wise its worked out ok. I'm 66 years old, 6'1", wight 166 pounds, my BP is 112/60 and my resting pulse is 46. I don't take any medications and can't remember ever being sick and have never been a patient in the hospital. I eat based on the Paleo diet and I'm frustrated with being identified as old. 6 years ago at 60 years old I ran from the Arizona border to the Pacific ocean, 211 miles in 5 days without stopping except for meals and bathroom breaks. I'll bet there are lots of young people that could not match my pace even for one day. Running has be a way of life for me and I hope to be able to run all the way to my grave. As of last year by my notes I've run about 150,000 miles in my life and I was a late starter. It's my opinion that the human body was meant to walk and run a lot more than most people do.

    November 11, 2011 at 4:23 am |
    • Tom


      A few words of wisdom runnerd friend. Even though you may not be old biologically, chronologically you are still old. Come on, be honest, you enjoy all those senior citizen discounts that the society has to offer. I would be damned if you were ever offered a senior citizen discount and you denied by saying "I don't want the discount; I'm not that old"

      November 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  8. Seth Miller

    John, sorry about the error. Glad we could get it corrected for you.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  9. phampants

    Correction: Its "John Pham" not "Jon Pham" cuz that's my name.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm |