“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 LetsRun.com and Coolrunning.com 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.